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New bill allows undocumented students to obtain professional certificates

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DENVER — Monserrat Ariza’s love to work in early childhood education came from a need she noticed in her community.

“I saw this more with the Hispanic community. A lot of the parents I talked to didn’t know what Autism was until their child got diagnosed and a lot of them got diagnosed kind of late,” explained Ariza. “Seeing all those barriers in the Hispanic community brought my attention to it and it sparked a passion in me.” 

She wants to empower parents and help spread the word about disabilities and how parents can help their children. 

But there was one problem.

Bill passes, allowing undocumented students to use their degrees
Colorado VoicesBill passes, allowing undocumented students to use their degrees

Even though Ariza has the passion, competency and—come December—a college degree from Metro State University, she almost couldn’t use her degree for the speech development work she wanted to do in public schools.

In Colorado, even if a person met all the educational requirements for a position, they were not able to obtain a professional license or a professional certificate if they couldn’t prove lawful status or lawful presence. This was based on a state rule that was recently changed by the Colorado legislature.

This month, SB 21-077 removed the lawful presence verification from professional licensing or certifications, allowing people like Ariza to use their degrees in the fields they want to work in.

Marissa Molina is the State Director for Forward U.S., an advocacy organization that works to better the lives of minorities in the country.

In 2013, Molina worked on the passage of Colorado ASSET, which allowed undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition. She also worked for the passage of state financial aid for those same students in 2019. Now, Molina says it was time to allow these students to use their education.

“I’m really excited that Colorado has been a state that has recognized that people’s merits matters and that we should be celebrating and opening doors so that everyone in our state can thrive regardless of where they come from,” said Molina.

Molina said people looking to pursue as career as a nurse, psychologist, school counselor, plumber, electrician, and aesthetician are just some of the many people who will be impacted by the bill's passing.

“After this, it opens so many more opportunities for me,” said Ariza.

Sonia Gutierrez is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at

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