- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

DENVER Rep. Tom Tancredo sparked a debate over immigration policy when he pushed federal officials to deport an 18-year-old honors student who illegally came to America with his family six years ago.
Jesus Apodaca, a Mexican-born student who lives in Aurora, Colo., was featured on the front page of the Denver Post in a story exploring whether state universities in Colorado should give in-state tuition breaks to illegal immigrants, as California and some other states do.
The Post story portrayed Mr. Apodaca sympathetically. But Mr. Tancredo, a Colorado Republican, contacted the Immigration and Naturalization Services and pushed them to begin deportation proceedings against the Apodaca family.
Democrats have seized on the episode to portray Mr. Tancredo as heartless, and some Colorado Republicans eager to court the state's growing Hispanic population are quietly backing away from his stance.
But Mr. Tancredo is standing firm, and some Coloradans are strongly supporting him.
"It shows how out of whack our policy is when illegal immigrants feel they can go on the cover of the biggest newspaper in Colorado and not draw the attention of the INS," said Jon Caldara, president of a libertarian think tank, the Independence Institute, in Golden, Colo.
Mr. Tancredo says granting privileges to illegal immigrants is unfair to those who come to America legally.
"It's not this family; they seem like nice people. That's not the issue at all," said Mr. Tancredo. "The issue is: What do we tell all these thousands of immigrants who are here legally and who are sweating it out to do it the right way?"
The Apodacas may be seeking only to improve their lives, said Mr. Tancredo, but they send the wrong message to legal immigrants. "These people are telling everyone else who's doing it right that they're suckers," he said.
The INS, meanwhile, says it has received calls supporting the Apodacas. Democrats are also defending the family.
"Jesus Apodaca is the perfect example of a kid who was brought to this country while very young, but succeeded spectacularly in his efforts to get an education," said Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat. "In these days of very tight budgets and huge national security demands, the [INS] should focus on keeping terrorists and drug dealers out of our country, not trying to kick out honor roll students."
Among Colorado Republicans, Gov. Bill Owens agreed that "our laws should be respected and enforced," but some in the GOP have hinted that Mr. Tancredo should have stayed out of the Apodaca matter.
Colorado, like most states, requires illegal immigrants to pay full tuition at state universities, even if they have lived in Colorado for many years. But four other states California, Texas, New York and Utah recently changed their laws to allow illegals to pay the lower, in-state tuition rate.
Hoping to win support for a similar move in Colorado, the office of the Mexican consul in Denver peddled the story of young Jesus Apodaca to local reporters. The Denver Post featured Mr. Apodaca on its front page last month, telling how he had been admitted to the University of Colorado, but couldn't afford the tuition.
Since he had attended Colorado public schools from the time he was 12, when his family crossed into this country via the Arizona desert, Mr. Apodaca argued that he should receive the lower tuition rate offered to state residents.
After Mr. Tancredo saw the Post article, he called the INS to see if they planned to start deportation proceedings. They didn't. But after some prodding by Mr. Tancredo, INS officials agreed to send the family a warning letter.
Press accounts of Mr. Tancredo's efforts then sparked a public reaction in an election year when the Colorado GOP has begun an outreach program to Hispanics, who make up 18 percent of the state population.
"In the middle of an election campaign, when the governor is actively reaching out to the Latino community, [Republicans] are much more interested in expanding the tent than solidifying the base," said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli.
But Mr. Tancredo is not backing down as seen by his response to criticism by an official of the Mexican consulate in Denver.
"How can the Mexican consul be so brazen about telling people to take our laws and shove them?" asked Mr. Tancredo. "If my son showed up illegally at the University of Mexico and asked them for in-state tuition, not only would they refuse, they'd throw him in a detention center. They take illegal immigration seriously there."


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