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Are Several Groups’ Voices Getting Lost In Talk Of New Immigrant Tuition Law?

The Florida Immigration Coalition gathers at the Florida Capitol to push back against a measure that would require local governments to cooperate with Immigration Customs Enforcement (2019).
Florida Immigrant Coalition
So-called Dreamers take a picture with Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater), an author of the Immigrant Tuition bill, on the second to last day of the 2014 Legislative Session/May 1, 2014.

Governor Rick Scott recently signed the so-called Immigrant Tuition bill into law that would grant in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants. Since near the end of Session, Scott has been touting the legislation and even did a week-long tourthis week. While it’s publicized more as a Hispanic win, other segments of the immigrant population who will also be affected by the new law are also weighing in.

Since signing the bill Monday, Governor Scott has been touring the state as part of his “College Affordability Tour,” touting the bill that not only prohibits tuition hikes by most colleges and universities without legislative approval, but also grants in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants who live in Florida.

"I want to make sure every child can afford their education whatever country you're from, whatever family or zip code, and then once you're finished, I want to make sure you can get a job,” said Scott, while in Fort Myers Monday.

Scott’s latest stance on the immigration tuition issue is different from his 2011 viewpoint. Shortly after taking office, he told the conservative blog Shark Tank he’s opposed to the idea.

“You know, with regard to giving in-state tuition reduction to illegal immigrants, I wouldn’t be doing that,” said Scott in October 2011.

"...at least in the media, they are focusing on the Latino community, but not taking into consideration other immigrant communities..."

“Not only did he say that he would never do that, I mean this is the candidate ran on, saying that the Arizona-style Immigration bill is great and we should follow it,” said Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, the Florida Democratic Party's Vice chair.

She says even with Scott changing his tune years later, Hispanic voters won’t forget the past in the upcoming November election.

“It’s amazing what an election year will do, but…So, this is a win! And, it’s a wonderful thing, but at the same time, I don’t think Hispanic voters will be fooled by the fact that this is an election year gimmick. We know exactly how he feels about Hispanics,” said Taddeo-Goldstein. “And, I’m not just speaking as a Democrat, I think as a Hispanic, we have not forgotten and we will not forget.”

Lately, Hispanics have been in the forefront in media reports, on the campaign trail, or when politicians speak about immigration reform in general. And, Immigration Lawyer Elizabeth Ricci, a partner at her law firm Rambana and Ricci, says it’s a common misconception.

“People think immigration is specifically a Mexican issue or a Hispanic issue. It is not. It’s an issue that involves people from all over the world. We happen to see a lot of Mexicans in the United States because they’re our neighbors, just like we see a lot of Canadians on the northern border. So, to say that immigration is a Hispanic issue exclusively is just not accurate,” said Ricci.

She says at her law firm, she sees an even mix of immigrants.

“It’s certainly a lot of Hispanics, it’s a lot of Indians, a lot of Chinese, Haitian, and Germans,” continued Ricci.

And Ricci says she’s even gotten a lot of calls about the bill from a multitude of immigrant groups.

“… especially from my Chinese clients. People are very interested—as I would be—in receiving accurate information so they can pursue the American Dream, including being educated in the U.S. at a reasonable rate…even though it’s outside of the scope of what I do, it’s related to what I do, so people ask me about it,” added Ricci.

“We know for the most part, when it’s at least in the media’s perspectives, they’re focusing on the Latino community, particularly because of the voting bloc that they have and the impact that they have on elections, but not taking into consideration other immigrant communities just like Haitian communities, the black immigrant communities, the Afro- Caribbean communities, that we also impact elections, for the most part, in the same ways,” said Francesca Menes, the Florida Immigrant Coalition’s Policy and Advocacy Coordinator.

Menes is also a part of the Black Immigration Network. She grew up in the community of Little Haiti in Miami, and is of Haitian and Dominican descent.

She says politicians are also contributing to the Hispanic focus as well. Still, Menes says she also doesn’t believe the Black community gets lost in the immigrant tuition issue because many immigrant groups in Florida are making sure to reach out to their respective communities.

“Because whenever we make sure we talk to our communities, we understand that this victory is not just for the immigrant community. It’s not just a Latino victory. This is a victory for all Floridians because this is leveling the playing field when it comes to all of our students that went to school here, who have spent their lives here, because of the simple fact that they are undocumented in this country, they didn’t have the opportunity to pay a fair rate basically to go to school in Florida.”

Menes says several different immigrant groups are now working on getting a bill through in 2015 that was vetoed by the Governor last year that would have allowed children of undocumented immigrants to get a temporary driver’s licenses. She adds they hope whosever in the Governor’s mansion next year will show they are truly committed to the immigrant community as a whole by backing that bill.

Meanwhile, the new law will take effect July 1st.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.