Attorneys filed a federal suit arguing that scores of American students -- who were born in the United States as children of undocumented immigrants -- are being wrongly denied the right to pay in-state tuition at Florida’s colleges and universities.
The lawsuit, filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, states that the policy is not something that was ever outlined in Florida law, but was instead adopted administratively by the Florida Department of Education and the Board of Governors that supervises state universities. The lawsuit blasts the policy as a clear violation of the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“Being classified as a non-resident more than triples the cost of tuition,” the lawsuit states. “As a result, many talented American students must either forego higher education or incur extraordinary costs.’’
A state Education Department spokesperson said the agency had not yet been served with the lawsuit, and could not comment on pending litigation. A Board of Governors spokesperson said the board, too, had not received a copy of the suit. Neither spokesperson responded to a request for a general explanation as to why the current policy exists.
It was unclear Wednesday how many other states have similar tuition rules, though at least two other states --California and Colorado -- have rescinded those policies in recent years. Colorado’s attorney general, in reversing the policy, found that in-state tuition is technically a benefit for the student -- not their undocumented parents.
Wednesday’s suit names several South Florida students as plaintiffs, including Noel Saucedo, who had a full-tuition scholarship at Miami Dade College reduced to almost nothing after he could not prove his parents were here legally. Saucedo now attends school part-time because he cannot afford out-of-state tuition rates, the suit says.
Other students, faced with the higher tuition rates, dropped out of school.
“Instead of going to college, I am now working two jobs,” plaintiff Caroline Roa told reporters during a press conference to announce the filing of the lawsuit.
Roa, 18, hopes to study psychology and work for the FBI. She attempted to enroll at Miami Dade College in August, but gave up when she realized she would have to pay out-of-state tuition she couldn’t afford.
Southern Poverty Law Center attorneys could not provide an exact number of Florida students being affected, but they estimated that it may be in the thousands -- if you count both students who are paying more and those discouraged from enrolling at all.
At community colleges, including Miami Dade, the in-state tuition cost of a full semester is roughly $1,200, while the out-of-state cost is about $4,500. At Florida International University, paying out-of-state tuition over the duration of a four-year degree adds about $50,000 to the total bill.
Miami Dade student Wendy Ruiz, another plaintiff in the suit, said she has earned a 3.7 grade-point average so far, but she has been forced to work multiple part-time jobs to finance just one class. She wants to be a doctor.
“My mother has always taught me that if I want something this bad, to fight for it,” Ruiz, 19, said, momentarily overcome by tears. “And I’m here, fighting for justice.”