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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Some Florida residents denied in-state Tuition

From the Miami Herald

By Myriam Marquez,

It was more than a long shot. It was a pipe dream that burst into a thousand tears in Tallahassee.

The tears of smart, go-getter college students who were once again snubbed because they are undocumented or their parents are.

Not that anyone but dreamers would have expected the Florida Legislature to give immigrant children a break. If legislators didn’t do it during the flush years, if they didn’t do it when popular pro-immigration Gov. Jeb Bush was in office, it was a wild assumption to believe that this Republican-controlled Legislature would split from the national GOP trend of shutting every door to immigrants wanting to legalize their status.

By a 4-3 vote, the second of two bills that would have allowed students who graduated from Florida high schools to get in-state college tuition, even though they are undocumented, failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. A similar bill got nowhere in the Senate Higher Education Committee last month.

But it’s not just the children of parents who brought them to this country illegally (or, as happens often, arrived legally but overstayed their visas to live and work here) who were punished for the legal sins of their parents. Many are American born, and still they are punished, made to “pay” for their parents’ wrongdoing.

How could that be? How could children born in the U.S.A. be treated like pariahs?

It’s not only un-American, it’s likely unconstitutional.

Incredibly, Florida requires students who are U.S. citizens to pay as if they are out-of-state students to attend a taxpayer-funded university if their parents can’t produce papers to show they are here legally. Unless the students live on their own and are not “dependants” of their parents, these students have nothing they can do but wait until they can live on their own to apply again for in-state tuition rates.

Odds are many will have lost that opportunity by then, been stuck in dead-end jobs just to survive. Considering the gulf between a college graduate’s lifetime pay and those without a degree — and what that means to the economy and to government revenues in the long term — closing the door on these students can’t get any dumber.

Students like Wendy Ruiz, a Miami Dade College student and born-in-the-U.S.A. citizen, are fighting the good fight. They are part of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s class-action lawsuit to right the wrong of Florida’s “dependency” clause for U.S. citizens.

“As an American, and a lifelong Florida resident, I deserve the same opportunities,” Ruiz told Miami Herald reporter Michael Vasquez last year. “I know that I will be successful because I have never wanted something so bad in my life like I want this.”

Ruiz’s predicament — out-of-state tuition for one semester costs $4,500 instead of the $1,200 charged for in-state students at MDC — caught the attention of a few lawmakers, including Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah.

But the legislation never had a chance. Dreams were crushed in January by the Senate Higher Education Committee. Born in America, heck born in Florida — no matter. These young people might as well have been born on Mars.

South Florida Republicans like Garcia surely understand what’s at stake. Their party has become so consumed with punishing illegal entry into this country — regardless of the broken legal system that makes people wait years to do it the right way — that policies have been put into place quashing the very liberty they claim to so love as Americans. The U.S. Constitution might as well be toilet paper the way these U.S. citizens are being treated.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who has sambaed around this immigration issue since he ran with tea party support last year, got his due when the “birther” wing of the GOP decided to question Rubio’s legal status to ever be on a presidential ticket. All because he was born when his parents, here legally, were not yet U.S. citizens.

You would think Rubio would want to help his party figure out this immigration issue as Hispanics are the largest minority in this country and are fast fleeing the GOP. (Not that President Obama has been great on this issue. In fact, he squandered his first year in office with a Democratic majority when this legislation had a chance of passing.)

You would think Rubio would want to show real leadership beyond questioning the tone of some presidential candidate’s political stand on immigration.

It’s not just tone, dude, it’s substance. If the DREAM Act, which passed the House last year but tanked in the Senate (it received a majority 55 votes but a filibuster required 60 votes to pass), wasn’t good enough for Rubio, then what would he propose?

I asked him about the DREAM Act during his campaign. First, he gave the scripted GOP response: seal the borders first, then deal with immigrants who are here. Pressed, he said he thought the grace period for the DREAM Act, which would allow young people to legalize their status if they go to college or into the U.S. military, went back too many years and the paperwork required to show proof was rather murky.

So how would you get it done instead? Oh, there are bigger problems right now, he answered. And so it went. He said it in a very nice tone, though. So much for leadership

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