Immigrant tuition bill unlikely to be revived

Feb 10, 2012

A group of Florida lawmakers say students who have gone to high school in the state should be allowed to go to college without paying out-of-state tuition – regardless of their immigration status. But Regan McCarthy reports a bill that would make that happen, faces an uphill battle.

Evelyn Rivera says she’s lived in Florida for almost as long as she can remember...

“I’m from Orlando Florida, but I’m originally from Columbia. I came to the United States with my family when I was about 3 years old, and I’ve been living in the central Florida area for about 20 years now.”

Rivera met the academic qualifications to receive a bright futures scholarship from the state. She wanted to go to Florida State University – her dream school – but because of her undocumented status she couldn’t cash her scholarship in. Instead, university officials told her she’d have to pay international student tuition fees. She opted to go to her local college where still paid international fees. And eventually even that became too expensive.

“This past semester, I actually had to stop my education because I just couldn’t afford the prices anymore and it’s not something my parents could afford to pay for me as well.”

Rivera says her goal is to be a lawyer one day. She says she deserves the chance to be considered a resident of the state so she can one day give back to it. Senator Gary Siplin, a Democrat from Orlando says that’s one reason he’s sponsoring Senate bill 106. He says passing the measure is the economically smart thing to do.

“With more affordable tuition, college students, college going rates would be increased for those students, which would lead to increased opportunities for employment, increased earning capacity and increased contribution to state revenues.”

The proposal would grant in state tuition to undocumented Florida high school students who promise to seek legal residency. Representative Dwight Bullard, a Democrat from Cutler Bay, is the author of the House companion bill. Bullard calls himself a “dream activist.” He says making it harder for a young person to get an education, sometimes shuts the door on their chance for success.

“We need to understand that in order for them to be successful, education needs to be that passport that will lead to a more prosperous and well deserved life.”

More than 10 other states have already implemented similar legislation and Bullard says the president is calling on more state to follow suit. But the legislation faces an uphill battle in Florida this year. Lawmakers in the Senate Higher Education Committee have already voted down a bill that would let students who are U.S. born citizens, but whose parents are undocumented pay in-state tuition. Senator Steve Oelrich, who chairs the committee, says he’s concerned that such bills could be unfair.

“It’s about removing all kind of qualifications for illegal aliens, but we’re going to keep the ones for the people in Michigan and that sort of thing.”

So far, neither Siplin nor Bullard’s bill has been heard in a committee. The path to a final vote for any bill appears to be a slow one. At the half-way point of the legislative session only a handful out of thousands of bills has been passed.