Alien Status of Parents Shouldn’t Affect Tuition

     (CN) – American-born children of undocumented Florida residents are entitled to in-state tuition rates at public universities, a federal judge ruled.
     A group of Florida residents who were born in the United States sued the state, claiming that the state Board of Education refused to classify them as residents for tuition purposes because their parents could not establish legal residence in the state.
     To qualify for lower in-state tuition rates, public university applicants in Florida must prove they have resided legally in the state for at least 12 consecutive months immediately before their enrollment. If the applicants are claimed as dependents on their parents’ tax returns, the parents must prove continuous legal residence in the state as well.
     The five plaintiffs claimed the state illegally classified them as nonresidents though they were all U.S. citizens and Florida high school graduates, and their families had lived in Florida for several years.
     Each plaintiff planned to attend a Florida public college or university, but was required to pay a tuition rate nearly three times higher than the rate for Florida residents. The classification forced some of the applicants to choose a less expensive community college and minimize their course load, while others withdrew from college altogether.
     U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore last month refused to certify the group as a class, finding that a class action would be unduly burdensome.
     But Moore ruled last week that classifying U.S. citizen students who live in Florida based on their parents’ federal immigration status was unconstitutional, and did not advance any legitimate state interest.
     Florida’s regulations “deny a benefit and create unique obstacles to attain public post-secondary education for U.S. citizen children who would otherwise qualify for in-state tuition but for their parents’ undocumented immigration status,” according to the 19-page ruling.
     Moore highlighted the importance of postsecondary education, which is a prerequisite for certain careers and guarantees higher earnings and lower unemployment rates.
     What’s more, the state cannot deny a benefit to a child based on the parent’s unlawful or immoral behavior, the ruling states.
     “Here, the state regulations deny a benefit to plaintiffs and impinge plaintiffs’ ability to attain post-secondary education at the state’s public institutions solely by virtue of their parents’ undocumented status, and in a very real way the regulations punish the citizen children for the acts of their parents,” Moore wrote.
     The classification creates a second tier of U.S. citizenship, which denies members of this category some of the benefits enjoyed by other citizens, and violates the equal protection clause because it does not advance an important government objective, according to the ruling.
     Moore concluded that Florida should grant in-state tuition status to college applicants who are U.S. citizens but whose parents are undocumented aliens, as long as the applicants meet the other eligibility criteria.
     Granting such applicants the same benefits as children of U.S. citizens will not prevent the state from distinguishing between in-state residents and out-of-state nonresidents, the ruling adds. Thus, there will be no additional financial burden on Florida’s public universities.
     A provision of the Dream Act that protects more than 1 million undocumented immigrant students from deportation took effect two weeks before Moore handed down this order.

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