Children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants must be allowed to take advantage of in-state tuition rates in Florida universities, a federal judge ruled last week. The lawsuit was filed by a group of students who were being charged out-of-state tuition in public colleges even though they were Florida residents, graduated high school in the state and were citizens of the United States. In rendering his decision, U.S. District Judge Michael Moore said that denying them in-state tuition when they met all other requirements was unconstitutional.
At issue was a regulation that took parents' immigration status in account when making tuition decisions for students who were under 24 and still considered dependents. Moore said that such information is irrelevant when making determination about in-state tuition eligibility.
"It is the plaintiffs who, upon graduating from a post-secondary educational institution, receive their names on diplomas, and it is plaintiffs – not plaintiffs' parents, cousins, or siblings – who are entitled to the benefits conferred by such a degree," Moore stated.
Responding to the Judge's findings, the Southern Poverty Law Center's deputy legal director Jerri Katzerman said that the group was thrilled to bring the "discriminatory" practice to an end. The Alabama-based group was representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The ruling would benefit from 9,000 to 12,000 students according to research using data from the U.S. Census and the Pew Hispanic Center, Katzerman said. It came barely two weeks after an order by the Obama administration went into effect protecting more than 1 million illegal immigrant students from deportation if they meet certain criteria.
Each of the five plaintiffs in the case graduated from a Florida high school in 2010 or 2011 with plans to attend a Florida public college or university. Non-resident tuition in Florida costs about three times as much as in-state tuition.
The state argued that doing away with the parental citizenship requirement would put Florida in a position of having to offer in-state tuition to every student in the country, which would impose a substantial financial burden. Judge Moore dismissed this argument as insufficient.
Florida is unique among the 50 states in making parent citizenship a factor in deciding who qualifies for in-state tuition and who does not. That doesn't mean, however, that there haven't been similar cases elsewhere in the country. A recent case in New Jersey involved an American-born student who was told to pay out-of-state tuition because her parents weren't naturalized. The only qualification for in-state tuition is one year of residence.
Florida officials haven't yet decided whether to proceed with an appeal, with Governor Rick Scott saying that Florida's lawyers were consulting with the State Board of Education to determine their next step.