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Florida Residents Sue Over Discriminatory College Tuition Rates

A class action lawsuit has been filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on behalf of five students who were all born in the United States yet have been classified as “non-residents” and charged a significantly higher tuition for college due to their parents being undocumented immigrants. The lawsuit was filed against Florida education officials and claims the policy discriminates against citizens and violates the Constitution. Students who want to attend a Florida public college or university but are classified as “non-residents” because of their parents are charged more than triple the cost of tuition. The policy affects all students who are under the age of 24 and are claimed as dependents by parents on their tax returns. One of the plaintiffs, Caroline Roa, was born in Florida, graduated from Miami High School and has a state voter’s registration card and driver’s license, yet when she went to enroll in college, she was told she would have to pay out-of-state tuition. She is now working two jobs instead of going to college. “This is not right or just and it isn’t the America I know,” she said. TheSouthern Poverty Law Center estimates that hundreds of students are being overcharged and thousands more, like Roa, are unable to afford the out-of-state tuition and forgo a college education. “This policy is hurting scores of young Floridians who are trying to go to college,” said Miriam Haskell, lead attorney for the SPLC. “They want to be doctors, they want to be teachers, they want to provide for their families and support their community. And this is their community.” Even though this policy has apparently been in place for several years, this class action lawsuit represents the first legal challenge. California had a similar issue in which the children of illegal immigrants who were born in this country were being charged as non-residents, but the matter was resolved in favor of the students through a consent decree. Similarly, in Colorado, the attorney general issued a formal opinion in 2007 determining that legal residents of the state were eligible for in-state tuition even if their parents were residing in the country illegally. “Because it is the student, rather than the parents, who is the legal beneficiary of in-state tuition status, the fact that the parents may be in the country illegal is not a bar to the student’s receipt of that benefit,” ruled the Attorney General John W. Suthers in the Colorado legal dispute. This policy showcases a great injustice in the system. Fortunately, however, policies similar to the Florida one have been challenged successfully in favor of the students. Let us hope that it will be no different in Florida and that this lawsuit may result in a favorable outcome that will allow students to pursue their higher education degrees without being victimized by this discriminatory state policy.

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