During my 16 years in public service, I thought I had seen it all. Recently, though, I learned something that shook me to my core. In Florida, students who are legal citizens are being denied in-state college tuition if they are the children of undocumented immigrants.
Education is the hallmark of the American dream. As a Jamaican-American, I know this well. The promise of a better Way of life is inextricably tied to higher learning, and that’s Why so many immigrant families instill the importance of education in their children. Sadly, Florida has established a two-tiered system of citizenship that forces some U.S. citizens to pay more than three times as much as other students for their college education. Consider the case of South Florida resident Wendy Ruiz, an American citizen studying at Miami-Dade College. Because she is unable to demonstrate her parents’ lawful immigration status, she cannot afford to take a full course load and will need three years to complete her two-year degree.
This flawed policy is the subject of a class-action lawsuit tiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf students who are denied in-state tuition due to the immigration status of their parents. Make no mistake about it: Our nation’s Founding Fathers did not contemplate different levels of citizenship when they crafted the U.S. Constitution.
In response, I have formed a coalition with the Children’s Services Council of Broward County and the Broward Days Immigrant Issues Team to help right this wrong. We are supporting the bipartisan End T uiïion Discrimination Now Act, sponsored by Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) and Rep. Reggie Fullwood (D-Jacksonville). I am a primary eo-sponsor of this bill that will allow these students to pay in-state tuition if they graduate from a Florida high school and pursue a postsecondary degree. These students are our best and brightest. They are our future leaders. I hope readers will take action and urge other state leaders to support the End Tuition Discrimination Now Act. lt’s time to take a stand for Florida’s most important resource – our children.