Attorneys in Miami have filed a federal suit arguing that scores of American students who were born in the United States as children of undocumented Caribbean and other immigrants are being wrongly denied the right to pay in-state tuition at Florida’s colleges and universities.
The lawsuit, filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, states that the policy is not something that was ever outlined in Florida law, but was instead adopted administratively by the Florida Department of Education and the Board of Governors that supervises state universities.
The lawsuit blasts the policy as a clear violation of the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“Being classified as a non-resident more than triples the cost of tuition,” the lawsuit states. “As a result, many talented American students must either forego higher education or incur extraordinary costs.”
It was unclear how many other states have similar tuition rules, though at least two other states —California and Colorado — have rescinded those policies in recent years.
Colorado’s attorney general, in reversing the policy, found that in-state tuition is technically a benefit for the student — not their undocumented parents.
The suit names several South Florida students as plaintiffs, including Noel Saucedo, who had a full-tuition scholarship at Miami Dade College reduced to almost nothing after he could not prove his parents were here legally.
Saucedo now attends school part-time because he cannot afford out-of-state tuition rates, the suit says.
Other students, faced with the higher tuition rates, dropped out of school, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.
On Friday, Representative Reggie Fullwood, a Jacksonville, Florida, Democratic state lawmaker filed a bill that would grant in-state tuition to students whose parents are undocumented immigrants.
“None of us can control who our parents are,” Fullwood said. “These are all U.S. citizens, folks who have been here all their lives, and they deserve the right to have an affordable education.”
Southern Poverty Law Center attorneys could not provide an exact number of Florida students being affected, but they estimated that it may be in the thousands — if you count both students who are paying more and those discouraged from enrolling at all.
At community colleges, including Miami Dade, the in-state tuition cost of a full semester is roughly US$1,200, while the out-of-state cost is about US$4,500.
At Florida International University, paying out-of-state tuition over the duration of a four-year degree adds about US$50,000 to the total bill.