By Michael Peltier
TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Sept 5 (Reuters) - Florida officials on
Wednesday were reviewing a federal judge's ruling ordering the
state to stop charging U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants
higher out-of-state tuition at public colleges, a practice he
The case was brought by the Alabama-based Southern Poverty
Law Center on behalf of a group of students who were denied less
expensive in-state tuition despite being U.S. citizens, Florida
high school graduates and residents of the state.
U.S.-born students of illegal immigrants are eligible for
in-state tuition at Florida universities if they meet the
standard residency requirements applicable to their peers whose
parents are U.S. citizens, U.S. District Judge Michael Moore
ruled last Friday.
"The state regulations deny a benefit and create unique
obstacles to attain public post-secondary public education for
U.S. citizen children who would otherwise qualify for in-state
tuition but for their parents' undocumented immigration status,"
Moore wrote in a 19-page opinion.
In determining resident status for tuition purposes, Florida
officials look at the citizenship status of parents if the
student is under 24 and still considered a dependent. In his
ruling, Moore concluded that a student's family is irrelevant.
"It is the plaintiffs who, upon graduating from a
post-secondary educational institution, receive their names on
diplomas, and it is plaintiffs - not plaintiffs' parents,
cousins, or siblings - who are entitled to the benefits
conferred by such a degree," Moore stated.
"We are thrilled this discriminatory practice is at an end,"
said Jerri Katzerman, Southern Poverty's deputy legal director.
"This policy, which was blatantly unconstitutional, will no
longer be a roadblock for these young students who may very well
be the state's leaders of tomorrow."
The ruling would benefit from 9,000 to 12,000 students
according to research using data from the U.S. Census and the
Pew Hispanic Center, Katzerman said. It came barely two weeks
after an order by the Obama administration went into effect
protecting more than 1 million illegal immigrant students from
deportation if they meet certain criteria.
Each of the five plaintiffs in the case graduated from a
Florida high school in 2010 or 2011 with plans to attend a
Florida public college or university. Non-resident tuition in
Florida costs about three times as much as in-state tuition.
Florida is the only state with regulations that specifically
deny in-state tuition to U.S.-born students of illegal
immigrants, though similar cases have arisen in other states.
An American-born student in New Jersey won an appeal last
month after she was wrongly denied financial assistance for
tuition at a state college because her parents were not
citizens. Unlike Florida, students in New Jersey are entitled to
assistance if they have lived in the state at least a year.
A spokesman for Florida Governor Rick Scott referred
questions to the state Department of Education.
"Our staff, general counsel and board are reviewing the
judge's decision and will consult with counsel from the State
Board of Education, as well as with Florida's attorney general,"
Florida State University System spokeswoman Diane McCain said.
The state argued that if the children of illegal immigrants
were granted eligibility other students living anywhere in the
United States could also apply, costing the state vast sums of
Moore dismissed that argument, saying it was based on a
misinterpretation of federal law, adding that it also flew in
the face of the state's own self-interest.
" U.S. citizen students who reside in Florida
according to their parents' undocumented federal immigration
status does not advance any legitimate state interest, much less
the state's important interest in furthering educational
opportunities for its own residents," he said.
(Additional reporting by David Adams)
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