TALLAHASSEE -- When the votes were tallied and the last lawmaker had left the room, the young adults wearing the paper graduation caps wept.
Their longshot hopes of winning in-state tuition for undocumented college students were dashed -- at least for this year.
The college-aged students had come from different parts of the state to change the law and faced a less-than-friendly Legislature.
With the law of the land still in place, undocumented students must continue to pay out-of-state tuition, which is nearly three times higher than the rates for Florida residents. Financial aid is rare.
A pair of bills in the Florida Legislature would have made things different. The Senate Higher Education committee defeated the first of the proposals last month.
Late Thursday, the second bill died in a 4-3 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“We’ve been shelved again,” said Leonardo Yepez, an 18-year-old student at Miami Dade College.
“We’ll keep fighting, though. This isn’t just about us. It’s about our little brothers and sisters, and all the children who will come after us.”
What played out in Tallahassee this week is part of a larger nationwide fight to fix an immigration system that advocates say punishes children for the acts of their parents.
For a decade, immigrants’ rights groups have pushed the DREAM Act, a federal proposal that would al- low undocumented children to obtain permanent residency, either by enrolling in college or serving in the military.
The bill has been criticized for promoting illegal immigration -- and has never been signed into law.
Though different from the federal DREAM Act, the two Florida proposals were controversial from the start.
The first sought to grant in-state tuition to Florida high school students who are U.S. citizens but whose parents are in the country illegally. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, was voted down by the Senate Higher Education Committee in late January.
The second bill was wider in scope. It would have granted in-state tuition status to students who had attended a Florida high school for at least three years, graduated from the high school and registered or enrolled at a Florida college or university -- regardless of their immigration status.
Undocumented students would have been required to sign an affidavit stating their intent to become legal residents.
“All I’m trying to do is get back the investment that we have already made in these students so they can become taxpayers,” argued Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, who sponsored Thursday’s bill.
The young adults spent the past few days pushing for the proposal. They had become a familiar sight around the capitol, their orange graduation caps hard to miss.