April 29, 2013

‘The dream is alive!’

By Cliff Foster

The crowd cheered when Gov. Hickenlooper signed the ASSET bill into law. Photo: Seth Baca

The crowd cheered when Gov. Hickenlooper signed the ASSET bill into law. Photo: Seth Baca

Moments after Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the ASSET bill at the Student Success Building on Monday, a beaming President Stephen Jordan went to the microphone and put an exclamation point on an historic event.

“ASSET,” he proclaimed to hundreds of people who packed the SSB lobby and balconies, “is now law!”

In a joyous and raucous bill signing that was part pep rally, part reunion and part celebration, Hickenlooper put his pen to a measure that allows qualified undocumented Colorado high school graduates to attend any public Colorado university or college for the in-state tuition rate. The ASSET bill signing capped years of failed efforts to even the playing field for students who have the smarts and desire for a college education but whose dreams are derailed because they cannot prove lawful presence in the United States.

“We’re opening the door; you guys are going to have to do all the work,” Hickenlooper told students in the audience.  “We’re going to get you into class; we’re going to give you the opportunity, then your hard work is going to complete the transaction.”

His signature was greeted by applause, cheers, shouts, hugs and high fives and recorded for history on everything from cell phones to TV news cameras. Besides MSU Denver students, faculty, staff and administrators, the event attracted immigration activists, public school teachers, politicians, veterans of the ASSET battle and representatives of the business community, among others.


 MSU Denver President Stephen Jordan said the American dream of the melting pot is alive in the U.S. and Colorado.
MSU Denver President Stephen Jordan said the American dream of the melting pot is alive in the U.S. and Colorado. 
The notion of equity was a major theme at the bill signing. “This is a path forward for all Colorado students,” Hickenlooper said. “This is a fair and equitable way for undocumented students to get their…fair opportunity for higher education.”

Added Jordan, “This sends a clear signal that the great American Dream of the U.S. as a melting pot nation is still alive and well in Colorado today!”

ASSET proponents, past and present, surrounded Hickenlooper on the lobby stage. Among them were four of the sponsors of the 2013 measure—Sens. Michael Johnston and Angela Giron and Reps. Crisanta Duran and Angela Williams—and former Rep. Val Vigil, who introduced the first in-state tuition bill in 2003.  Joining Jordan on the stage were University trustees Bill Hanzlik, Chair Rob Cohen and student Jesse Altum.

Jordan and the board were repeatedly cited for their approval last June of  the Colorado High School/GED Nonresident Tuition Rate, which allows qualified undocumented students to attend for more than the in-state rate, but less than the standard non-resident rate. The decision by MSU Denver is credited with helping to pave the way for the passage of ASSET during this legislative session after six failed attempts.

Hickenlooper called Jordan “a champion of all kids” and cited MSU Denver as “one of the most innovative schools in the nation.” Later, Giron expressed gratitude to Jordan. “What he did…and the board of this institution has made it easier to get the work done that we needed to get done.”

 The large crowd took out their mobile devices to record the historic bill signing.
The large crowd took out their mobile devices to record the historic bill signing. 

But politics aside, the day represented a triumph for students. While celebrating the passage of ASSET—“the doors are open and the dream is alive,” as Johnston put it—some speakers noted more challenges ahead in the quest for immigration reform.

‌It was expressed in the remarks written on a banner taped to the front of the Student Success Building. “Now I can make my parents proud by graduating from college,” one student wrote.

It was expressed by Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management Judi Diaz Bonacquisti, a member of the steering committee of the Higher Education Access Alliance (HEAA), an organization that has been advocating for ASSET for years.

“It’s going to give hope in a way that I don’t know was always there.”

And it was expressed by Oscar Juarez, an MSU freshman who came to the U.S. in 1999 and plans to be an electrical engineer.

“Today,” he said, “opened my eyes that people do believe in humanity.”

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