Senate rejects bill to give in-state tuition to Florida students who aren't citizens

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauFebruary 16, 2012 

Despite heart-felt appeals from students, a bill to offer in-state college tuition to children who were brought to the U.S. illegally was killed on a 4-3 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.

Sponsored by Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, the bill would have created a state version of the DREAM Act, the federal proposal that refers to Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors Act.

Students who can’t prove their residency now must pay out-of-state tuition, which is roughly three times higher, and usually do not qualify for financial aid.

Pamela Gomez, a 19-year-old college student, was brought to tears when she spoke of her three siblings and their chances of going to college. She said she graduated with a 5.0 grade point average, with more than 200 community service hours, was a member of student government and now is enrolled in a community college paying more “three times more than any other student.”

Her dream, she said, is to go to medical school but she worries whether she will be able to afford it, and whether her two sisters and brother will go be able to beyond high school.

“I tell my siblings to continue in school, to always excel and do their best,'' Gomez said, her voice cracking, "knowing that maybe when they graduate they may not be able to go to college.''

The committee ran out of time for debate and defeated the bill. Voting for the measure were Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Anitere Flores, R-Miami. Voting against it were Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, David Simmons, R-Orlando, Garrett Richter, R-Naples, Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.

This is the second time a Senate committee has defeated a attempt to offer in-state tuition to immigrants. A measure sponsored by Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, that would grant in-state tuition to Florida high school students who are U.S. citizens but whose parents are in the country illegally was voted down by the Senate Higher Education Committee last month.

The bill would grant in-state tuition status to students who had attended a Florida high school at least three years, graduated from the high school and registers or enrolls at a Florida college or university.

Students who are unlawful immigrants would have had to file an affidavit stating they intent to become a legal immigrant.

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