By Melanie Gray | Colorado Watchdog
DENVER — Former presidential candidate Tom Tancredo is backing off a threat to sue a Colorado university over a policy of reduced tuition for illegal immigrants, who would pay less than some U.S. citizens.
Tancredo dropped plans to file the lawsuit against Metropolitan State University of Denver, but he now wants to use a speaking tour to start a grassroots movement for immigration reform, his signature issue during a 2008 GOP bid for the White House.
U.S.-born students, afraid of retaliation by school officials, refused to sign on to the class-action lawsuit.
Tancredo, who represented Colorado’s 6th District in the House for a decade, decided to challenge Metro State in court after university board members reduced the cost for undocumented students about six months ago. The trustees acted after the Colorado Legislature failed to pass a bill that would have given a tuition break to illegal immigrants at all state colleges and universities.
Undocumented students at Metro State pay $7,157 an academic year — tuition rates are $15,985 for out-of-state students and $4,304 for in-state students. To qualify for the reduced rate, undocumented students must have lived in Colorado at least three years, have a high school diploma or a GED and be in good legal standing except for their immigration status, according to university spokeswoman Cathy Lucas.
Two weeks after Metro State’s decision, state Attorney General John Suthers issued an opinion declaring the new rate illegal under state law and saying only the General Assembly can change the statute.
Suthers’ ruling was Tancredo’s impetus to sue Metro State, but the former Republican needed a plaintiff — a U.S.-born out-of-state student paying the highest rate.
Using an ad in Metro State’s campus newspaper, Tancredo tracked down at least half a dozen potential plaintiffs, but the students ultimately refused to be party to any legal action because they feared repercussions from the university.
“And I couldn’t say it wouldn’t happen,” he said.
The students did not respond to a request for comment by Colorado Watchdog.
Metro State believes the reduced tuition benefits all Coloradoans, not just its undocumented students. Of the university’s 23,000 students, about 240 who registered for fall classes qualified for the reduced tuition rate, Lucas said.
“The trustees believe, and research has shown, that a well-educated workforce benefits society and the economy,” Lucas told Colorado Watchdog.
A statement on the university’s website details those benefits: additional tax revenue, reduced crime rates and a better quality of life.
About the same time that Metro State changed its tuition structure, the White House issued a two-year moratorium on deportations of undocumented students brought into the country illegally by their parents, and subsequently allowed them to apply for temporary legal status and work permits. The students, however, do not qualify for federal benefits and receive no guarantee they can enroll in colleges or receive in-state tuition if allowed to attend.
The policy change, coupled with the re-election of President Obama and the GOP’s loss of the Colorado statehouse, makes what Tancredo acknowledges as a much longer road to immigration reform.
Nearly three out of four Hispanic voters cast their ballots for Obama, making even the staunchest Republicans realize they must court the nation’s largest minority group if they want to return to power — both in Washington and across the country. The Colorado Republican Party did not respond to two requests for comment.
Tancredo sees both parties as unwilling to stem the flow of millions of Mexicans and Latin Americans into the U.S. every year.
“The Democrats — everyone looks to them as undocumented Democrats and Republicans see them as cheap labor,” said Tancredo, who founded the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus in 1999, his first year in the House.
Tancredo, though, isn’t disheartened. He has reached out to community and civic groups throughout Colorado to advance his message: Illegal immigration can be cut by 90 percent if employers are simply required to check the legal status of their foreign-born workers.
The federal government has an Internet-based system called E-Verify that checks the immigration status of a worker or job candidate. Employers participate voluntarily unless they are federal contractors or are in Arizona or Mississippi — states that require the use of E-Verify under state law.
Tancredo wants to see more states — and even cities — require businesses to use E-Verify.
“It really is the easiest way to deal with it (illegal immigration),” he said. “If you cannot get a job, if you can’t get social service benefits, you don’t want to come here.
E-Verify is also the ideal solution for a company, Tancredo argued.
“It is simple and easy. All (the) employer has to do when he runs across a Social Security number that isn’t correct … tell the person to go fix it,” he said. “They don’t have to call Homeland Security.”
Tancredo is waiting to hear back on his speaking offers, so he doesn’t yet have a start date for his tour. He might even take his message to groups nationwide if he gets a favorable response at home.
“If we don’t try to stop illegal immigration,” he said, “we might as well fold the tent.”
Melanie Gray can be reached at [email protected]