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Ketzalcoatlicure Aztec dancers perform Wednesday during an immigration reform rally at the Minnesota Capitol.

ST. PAUL - Minnesota senators approved a plan that supporters say would bring the dream of attending college closer to reality for students like Deisy Rivera.

"It will help me a lot," the 16-year-old Red Wing resident said.

Minnesota senators passed a bill 41-23 Wednesday to allow undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges, such as the University of Minnesota and those in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, and apply for state financial aid.

Bill sponsor Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said more students would be able to attend school under the change because it would be more affordable.

Pappas said the proposal, known as the Minnesota Dream Act or Prosperity Act, might only impact a few hundred students, but "it's very symbolic for a lot of immigrant students who dare to dream that they too can get a college education."

Rivera said she hopes to attend college in Minnesota after she graduates and knows others who also would benefit from the change.

"It will give them hope, and they won't be scared," she said.

Pappas said all students who have grown up in Minnesota should have the same opportunities.

Undocumented immigrant students must have attended at least three years of high school and graduate from a Minnesota school to be eligible.

They also must have already applied to be legal U.S. citizens or do so as soon as possible.

Some Republicans supported the in-state tuition provision but tried to remove state financial aid eligibility.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he is fine with the tuition, "but when we are talking about the taxpayers' money, that's where I personally draw the line."

Pappas said the bill simply would broaden the aid program, not reduce the number of people eligible. Other students likely would only see about $2 less per year, she said.

"I think that taking away the option for financial aid really does take away the dream," Pappas said.

She said even with in-state tuition, it will be difficult for many of the students to afford college.

The change at the state level could mean the difference between attending college or not, Rivera said.

"Many students just give up (now)," she said.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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