DENVER - After a 10 year fight in the legislature, undocumented students finally got the document they have been waiting for, after it cleared its final hurdle in the Capitol on Friday.
"It's actually going to change the lives of many thousands of students," said Alexa Bailon, a junior at Bishop Machebauf High School in Denver.
Alexa was brought to the United States when she was 4-years-old. She has always wanted to go to college, but the idea of having to pay out-of-state tuition at an in-state school seemed to be a barrier pushing her away from higher education.
"Knowing that the price would maybe be too high for my parents to pay and you know, 2 a.m. in the morning writing a report, you're like I don't know if this is worth it," Alexa said.
It is worth it, now.
The Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow bill or ASSET was approved by the House of Representatives Friday morning. The last stop for the measure will be Governor John Hickenlooper's desk, but he has already stated he will sign it. ASSET will allow undocumented students who have attended a Colorado high school for at least three years and graduated or obtained their G.E.D. the right to obtain in-state tuition at a Colorado college or university. The only provision is that these students have also filed to try to legalize their immigration status.
"It makes a huge difference being able to pay in-state tuition makes it so much more affordable," Alexa said.
This fight started 10 years ago in the corner of a Rosa Linda's Mexican restaurant in Northwest Denver when students gathered to talk with legislators and community leaders like Ricardo Martinez, co-director of Padres y Jovenes Unidos.
"This is the place where the first conversation started," said Martinez, gesturing around the dining room at Rosa Linda's.
He says it's been a long battle, but one that is worthwhile. Martinez believes ASSET will have a bigger effect than just making college affordable. He believes it will instill hope.
"When we started talking to principals and counselors, they said the biggest reason why students are losing interest is they know they can't go on to higher ed," said Martinez. "So, they start dropping out. And, so the impact is going to be tremendous."
The ASSET bill had previously failed six times over the past 10 years. This year, Alexa joined the fight by testifying twice at legislative committees. Martinez says this time around supporters built alliances and momentum before heading to the legislature.
"Businesses coming on board, Republicans coming on board," Martinez said. "This is the right thing to do. This is the moral thing to do."
Alexa believes people started to believe that undocumented students are just trying to do something positive.
"The Republicans ran out of reasons to say no," Alexa said.
Alexa has now applied for "deferred action" from the federal government, allowing her to stay legally in the United States. She now also has her employment authorization card allowing her to work. She can now legally pursue her dream of becoming a doctor, thanks to a document that changes the lives of undocumented students.
"They're going to be able to go to school and know that if they study hard, they have the opportunity to go to college," Alexa said.
(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)