DENVER (AP/CBS4) - A Denver college's move to establish a special tuition rate for illegal immigrant students has spiraled into a legal fight involving the state's attorney general, and a legislative committee held a conference Wednesday to discuss the issue.
The fight between Metropolitan State College of Denver officials and Republican Attorney General John Suthers emerges as President Barack Obama has spotlighted the immigration debate, issuing an order saying certain young illegal immigrants will no longer face deportation.
Metropolitan State College of Denver earlier this month established for illegal immigrants who meet specific requirements a tuition rate that is significantly lower than the nonresident rate.
The move followed a failed legislative attempt from Colorado Democrats that would have established such a tuition tier at schools across the state.
Suthers responded Tuesday, saying Metro State's unilateral decision is "not supported by governing law."
Other Colorado Republicans have criticized the school's move, and Suthers echoed their call, saying the tuition discount amounts to a "public benefit" that illegal immigrants are not entitled to under state and federal laws.
Under Metro State's current proposal illegal immigrants would pay $7,157 for a full academic year provided they spent at least three years at a Colorado high school and attained a Colorado high school diploma. It's more than current in-state tuition, currently at $4,304 a year, but significantly less than the $15,935 paid for out-of-state students.
Suthers said the school does not have the authority to set such a rate and added that lawmakers must decide whether to provide such a benefit.
In front of the Joint Budget Committee, Metro State President Stephen Jordan defended the school's decision to offer an alternative rate to illegal immigrants.
"We believe we've acted on good legal ground," Jordan told the committee. "Our board has felt for some time now that this is an appropriate policy."
Colorado Republican lawmakers this year rejected an attempt from Democrats to grant discounted tuition to illegal immigrants who graduated from state high schools. The legislation would've made it optional for colleges to participate, but most higher education institutions supported the bill.
Suthers said colleges cannot act unilaterally on the issue. He issued the opinion at the request of the Colorado Community College System, which asked if colleges could do what Metro State did. CCCS supported this year's legislation.
The Metro State board of trustees said in a statement they did not believe they had disregarded Colorado's law, and that their intent was to "provide access and affordability to all of Colorado's high school students."
Obama said in an announcement last week that the government won't seek to deport illegal immigrants younger than 30 who came to the country before turning 16. They also must have been in the country for at least five continues years, have no criminal records, and have graduated from a U.S. high school or gotten a GED.
Thirteen states, including California and Texas, have crafted and passed tuition legislation for illegal immigrants and they have survived legal challenges.
- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer (CBS4 staff contributed to this report)
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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