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UNF Spinnaker

Illegal Education

Florida is denying in-state tuition to U.S. citizens living in the state who are unable to prove the lawful immigration status of their guardians – an unconstitutional policy that more than triples the cost.

As a result, the Southern Poverty Law Center – an American nonprofit civil rights organization – filed a lawsuit on behalf of several aspiring college students against the state to end the practice.

“These policies attack our most fundamental American values by punishing children for the actions of their parents,” said Jerri Katzerman, director of educational advocacy for the center. “It’s an unconscionable attack on students from immigrant families.”

The lawsuit charges that policies of the Florida State Board of Education and the Florida Board of Governors are unconstitutional because they discriminate against U.S. citizen students due to their parents’ immigration statuses.

The center’s efforts are focused in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Gerald Robinson, Florida commissioner of education, and Frank T. Brogan, chancellor of the state university system, are the defendants named in the lawsuit. They are being sued in their official capacities.

Our stance: We agree with the center. This is a pathetic shortcut the state is using to recoup some of the $340 million budget cuts, made by Gov. Rick Scott in February, for college and university education and research.

The difference in tuition is staggering. UNF’s 2010-2011 in-state cost of attendance was $18,806 per year. Its out-of-state cost of attendance: $32,194.

UNF Admissions failed to return our calls so that we could determine the number of nonresident students who could potentially be affected by this measure. But it’s safe to say there is more than a handful.

To be considered a Florida resident, a student must either be independent and have lived in Florida for a year or be a dependent whose parents or guardians have lived in Florida for at least a year.

Students who do not meet one of these residency requirements must fill out a nonresident form, lumping them with out-of-state and foreign applicants.

To be clear, this isn’t about the Dream Act – a measure that would put illegal immigrants who come to the U.S. as children on a path to citizenship if they fulfill several requirements. This is about a grave injustice to American citizens’ civil liberties.

As granted by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the Unites States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process, of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Even Texas Gov. Rick Perry is on board.

“We need to be educating these children because [otherwise] they will be a drag on our society,” he said in a September. Adding that, if you don’t sympathize with the plight of undocumented immigrants brought here as children, “you don’t have a heart.”

To resolve this issue, all the education commissioner needs to do is rewrite the regulations.

Both California and Colorado resolved similar disputes by extending in-state tuition rates to students in question – problem solved.

California has the largest estimated illegal immigrant population in the United States with about 2.6 million, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Still, illegal immigrants who graduate from California high schools are eligible for in-state tuition.

Florida has the third largest population, with an estimated 675,000 illegal immigrants.

They aren’t going anywhere, folks.

We can either help educate these people, and, in turn, they will make an impact in our society, or we can hunt them down like dogs – spending millions in doing so – and kick them out.

In Florida, the policy is the result, not of a law, but regulations handed down by the state Education Department and the Board of Governors, which oversees higher education.

Both departments were contacted and both denied commenting on the issue.

Yes, receiving funding for anything nowadays – other than for monocles and top hats for politicians – is like pulling teeth. But that is not the fault of these students or any other students.

The state can find better ways to save money. Better yet, it should demand more money, and quit being such a pushover to tally-whacker politicians.

Don’t give us any more bureaucracy jargon. Just get started on the paperwork, so that these students can get back to their education, inherit your jobs, and make sure discrepancies like this don’t keep happening.

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