It’s been over a year since HB 851 was signed into law, letting undocumented students pay in-state tuition at Florida public universities. Two undocumented brothers, one a student, the other an activist, speak on how it’s working and what’s expected in the future.
The fight over the in-state tuition debate was contentious, drawing backlash from lawmakers like Republican Representative from Melbourne Beach, John Tobia, who even proposed an amendment to the bill. He says, “So what this amendment does is quite simply ask or force those undocumented individuals that are male and age 18, like the American Citizens and Floridians that are members, or joined the selective service, that they themselves join the selective service – sign up and be prepared to fight for their county.”
After the vote, Governor Rick Scott said of the bill, “Students that grew up in this state were not getting in-state tuition like their peers and that was wrong and we did the right thing. So, it’s an exciting day.”
Daniel Escalante was there. He stood on the steps of the capitol with his brother, Juan, when the Governor later signed House Bill 851 into law.
“It was a happy moment, really," Daniel says. "To see all of the struggle we put in and all of the hours and the hard work we put in really paid off and yeah, it was a very, very emotional spot for us.”
Daniel is a student, and an undocumented immigrant. Like others in his situation, Daniel was paying twice as much as Florida residents to attend college, despite living in Florida nearly his whole life.
“I’ve been here since I was 9 years old in this country," he states. "And essentially, for all intents and purposes I am a part of this country.”
Daniel has completed his Associate of Arts degree at Miami Dade College and will be transferring to Florida International University in the fall to complete his bachelor’s degree, except this time, he’ll be paying in-state tuition. He says this isn’t just a matter of affordable education, but rather a way of reassuring their parents that leaving everything behind for a brighter future, was worth it.
“In-state tuition would allow a door to be opened and would allow more undocumented students to go out and pursue their dreams of going to a four year university or to a college and getting that degree that their parents came to this country for, " Daniel says. "So they can better their lives and not have to struggle like they did in their own countries.”
To many undocumented students, Daniel’s story is familiar. The state university system governing board says since the bill passed, 572 undocumented immigrants have received what’s called a “non-resident” waiver for the 2014-2015 academic year.
But Daniel’s brother, Juan Escalante, says education rights for undocumented students in Florida could go even further.
Juan is an activist for undocumented immigrants a contributor to The Huffington Post. He says the current tuition waiver doesn’t apply to undocumented students in graduate school or medical school, and wants that to change
“I don’t expect undergraduate students who are undocumented to just finish their degree and call it a day," Escalante says. "I think that some of them will have an interest in an advanced education.”
Right now 18 states including Florida allow undocumented immigrants to have in-state tuition, 5 of those states provide federal financial aid for those who qualify. However, Arizona, Georgia, and Indiana have passed legislation that explicitly prohibits undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition.