Immigrant tuition bill unveiled

Jan 26, 2012

A bill that several lawmakers say would end tuition discrimination in Florida could help one young man fulfill his goal. As Sascha Cordner reports, the bill’s sponsors are using that young man as an example to show that all residents, regardless of their background, should have the right to pay in-state tuition.

18-year-old Renato Lherisson, the son of undocumented immigrants, is a native of Miami.

“And, right now the issue is still going on, and I’m not really sure if I’m going to college this year. So, that’s why I felt the urge to come here and get my voice across because it’s affecting me, and it’s affecting many others, so.”

He’s affected by a state law that does not allow Florida residents, who are children of undocumented immigrants, to pay in-state tuition at Florida Colleges and universities. Instead, a U-S citizen born of an undocumented immigrant must pay out-of-state fees.

In Lherisson’s case, though he was born in Florida, he was raised in Haiti where he lived with his father, until his father died when Lherrison was 13. Later, he was affected by the Haiti’s devastating Earthquake in 2010, which left about 316-thousand people dead.

In its aftermath, the U.S. military flew him back to live in Florida, where he finished his last two years in high school with high marks and a good SAT score. But, when he went to apply to college, Lherisson says they asked him to pay three-times the amount of in-state tuition, something he could not afford:

“From an earthquake to you wanting to be more and actually working hard, and getting A’s at school, you expect to go to college. You expect to go to college. You expect to pay normal tuition, just to follow what you want. And, for my father, that was the main-thing education, and this issue coming up, it just breaks everything that you’ve tried to do for the two years you’ve been in high school, getting grades, that was the issue for me.”

And, Representative Hazelle Rogers of Lauderdale Lakes says potential college students, like Lherisson, shouldn’t have to find a way to pay the out-of-state fees because they’re already residents. That’s why she filed House Bill 441 to end what she calls “tuition discrimination:”

“I could not believe that you have U.S. born citizens, U.S. born children, and inherent to our constitution, you’re born here, you’re a U.S. Citizen, that would not be able to access in-state tuition rate to continue their education, yet we are going outside of the U.S. to bring talent into this country. So, we need to nurture what we have, we have a great students that we invested in, we need to continue to invest in them and give them the opportunity.”

Roger’s bill would allow a U-S citizen or Florida resident, who is the child of an undocumented immigrant, to qualify for in-state tuition if they meet specific criteria, like going to a Florida high school for two consecutive years.

Rogers insists the concept of her bill is not an immigration issue.

Republican Senator Rene Garcia agrees. He’s the Senate sponsor of the legislation. He says once lawmakers in both chambers realize it’s more of an equity issue, they’ll be able to get the bill passed out of the Florida Legislature and help people, like Lherrison.

“No one wants any of our American citizens to be treated any differently than we are because of our parent’s status or the lack of a status of our parents or the lack of being able to identify the status. How about if a student is living with an aunt and uncle, and they can’t prove the status of their parents? It doesn’t make sense! If they are a U-S, they should be treated as one. And, if they are a resident of the state of Florida, they should be entitled to the same in-state tuition that any other resident of the state of Florida would be getting charged.”

So far, the bill has not gone through any committees. But, both Representative Rogers and Senator Garcia say they are working to get the bills into a committee slot.