27 October 2011

Children of illegal US immigrants file lawsuit over tuition fees

A lawsuit has been filed in Florida to overturn a law that requires the children of immigrants that do not hold a valid US visa to pay higher education tuition fees.

US visa application

A lawsuit has been filed in Florida to overturn a law that requires the children of illegal immigrants to pay higher tuition fees.

A little-known legal loophole in the state of Florida has been exposed this week, with a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Miami on behalf on citizens whose parents are undocumented US immigrants i.e. do not hold a valid America visa, who are forced to pay out-of-state tuition fees despite being lifelong state residents and US citizens.

One of the case's key plaintiffs, Wendy Ruiz, pays tuition fees on her podiatry course at Miami Dade College almost five times higher than other students because under the state legislation, she is exempt from 'in-state' tuition status due to her parents' immigration status.  Ms Ruiz was born in Florida and holds a state birth certificate, drivers licence and is a registered Florida voter.

“As an American, and a lifelong Florida resident, I deserve the same opportunities,” Ruiz told the Miami Herald.

This stipulation under Florida law has been met with alarm from education professionals who assumed in-state tuition was automatically offered to all state residents and citizens.

"I said 'it must be a mistake', I was convinced an error had been made," said Miami Dade College Provost Rolando Montoya upon hearing of the case.

Meanwhile, a bill has also been proposed in the Florida state legislature to award in-state tuition status to the citizen children of illegal immigrants who have attended Florida high school for four consecutive years and enrol in a state college within 12 months of graduation.

"None of us can control who our parents are," said Rep. Reggie Fullwood, the state Democratic member who initiated the bill.

"These are all US citizens, folks who have been here all their lives, and they deserve the right to have an affordable education".

Rep. Fullwood expects some tough opposition from the Republican-controlled House, who strongly opposed the Obama Administration's Dream Act, which offers a similar reprieve to students who entered the US illegally as small children.

But Rep. Rene Garcia, Republican chair of the Florida Hispanic Caucus has expressed support for the bill.

"The Deam Act is a little different," he said. "When you’re an American citizen you’re an American citizen."

The American Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people with their ESTA visa application.

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