EDITORIAL: Don’t deny college to the right kids for the wrong reasons when it comes to illegal immigration status

Really, Colorado, this isn’t about whether you think Mexicans sneaking across the border are to blame for some or all of this country’s woes.

What’s behind a wrongly controversial bill to allow some illegal immigrants to get discounted state college rates is about 500 people a year very much like Aurora’s Juan Carlos Baños.

Baños is a senior at Smoky Hill High School. Aurora Sentinel Reporter Adam Goldstein tells Baños’ remarkable story in this week’s edition.  He’s an immigrant from El Salvador, a talented artist, an International Baccalaureate scholar and facing deportation if the government doesn’t allow him political asylum. And he wants to go to college.

If he attends a state college, he’ll have to pay as much as much as five times what other Colorado residents do, because even though he’s lived here for much of his life, and even though he and his family have been an economic part of this community the whole time, even paying taxes, he doesn’t have the immigration credentials he needs to get in-state college tuition.

If he or the hundreds of other kids like him wanting to go to college had grown up in Texas or a growing number of states like Texas, this wouldn’t be an issue. There, illegal immigrants in similar situations qualify for in-state college tuition rates because lawmakers there realized everyone wins under such a system.

Not here, where too few state House Republicans are willing to cross party political lines and do the right thing. For the sixth year, legislation trying to rectify the situation and get kids like Baños to college, is in jeopardy.

Such laws are popular even in conservative states because they make fiscal sense, and  they make common sense.

The message to critics of this proposal needs to be clear: These are not illegal immigrants. These are children of illegal immigrants. They are the victims of their parents’ transgressions, not the perpetrators. Many of these children have lived almost their entire lives in Colorado or another state. Punishing them by withholding their only opportunity for higher education does not get them out of Colorado, nor does it punish their parents.

Many of these children grow up in local public schools, graduate and have the opportunity to make huge strides in their own lives, the lives of their families and their communities if they go to college.

Critics of the proposal say it rewards and encourages illegal immigration, and it’s unfair because legal immigrants don’t get the in-state discount. Those are the same sham arguments that kept the federal DREAM Act from passing, ignoring the practical side of educating people who will in all likelihood spend most or all of the rest of their lives in the United States.

Critics of this measure live in denial of the world around them. We cannot wish illegal immigrants out of the country any more than we can wish things were different in the Middle East.

The reality is, killing this bill does nothing to those who choose to come here illegally. Instead, it punishes innocent children whose lives could change drastically for the good by Colorado showing some real fairness and real compassion. This is not a request for charity. No tax dollars are asked for in this measure, and none will be spent.

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