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Class-Action Lawsuit Calls Florida’s In-State College Tuition Restrictions Unconstitutional

| October 19, 2011

Discrimination's many colors.

Wendy Ruiz is an American citizen, a native of Miami, where she was born in 1992. She has a Florida birth certificate. She has a Florida high school diploma. She has a Florida voter registration card, a Florida driver’s license and a Florida bank account. She is an honor student in her second year at Miami Dade College–as an out-of-state student.

Ruiz is paying $377 per credit hour, instead of the $105.50 afforded in-state residents. That works out to an annual tuition and fees bill of $9,000 instead of the $2,500 in-state residents pay. Ruiz can’t afford the normal, 12-credit-per-semester load, though that’s what she’d rather take. So she’ll end up taking three years to finish her two-year degree.

Why? Because her parents cannot show proof of her parents’ legal immigration status. Florida’s college and university system’s rule is unbending. A student’s residency status is irrelevant no matter how American, no matter how Floridian. Ruiz could have been Miss Florida for all the university system cares. It’s her parents’ residency status that counts, which also means that for countless students whose parents are being forced to move out of the state for economic reasons, they take their child’s in-state rate away with them.

Or take Noel Saucedo. He, too, is an American citizen. He’s old enough to vote. He was born in Miami in 1996, and has leaved continuously in the state since 2006. He has all the documents Ruiz has. He was also a good student. He was awarded a full scholarship to attend Miami Dade College. But unable to provide proof of his parents’ legal residency in Florida, he had to pay the out-of-state tuition rate, which negated most of the advantage of his scholarship and preventing him, too, from taking a full load at the school. Last March he tried to enroll at Florida International University. He was asked for his parents’ lawful immigration status. He didn’t have it. He wasn’t even allowed to go on with his application.

American citizens, Florida residents, denied their right to an education on terms equal to their equals. The stories go on, student after student.

Earlier today in federal district court, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the students against Gerard Robinson, the Florida Commissioner of Education and Frank Brogan, chancellor of the State University System (and former education commissioner), challenging Florida’s rule as it applies to legal Florida residents whose parents have no similar proof. The suit charges that Florida’s rule is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, and that it is in conflict with federal law, which recognizes the students as legal residents–and overrides state rules.

“These policies attack our most fundamental American values by punishing children for the actions of their parents,” said Jerri Katzerman, director of educational advocacy for the Atlanta-based Southern Poverty Law Center, a human rights and advocacy organization. “It’s an unconscionable attack on students from immigrant families that more than triples the cost of a college education.”

“These American students went to the same Florida high schools, held down the same part-time jobs and participated in the same after-school activities as their counterparts who are granted in-state tuition,” said Tania Galloni, managing attorney for the SPLC’s Florida office. “We are simply asking that these students be granted the same rights as all other Florida citizens.”

The lawsuit is part of the center’s effort to reform school policies that unnecessarily push students out of school or otherwise limit their opportunities for a successful future. The center’s efforts are focused in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

A copy of the complaint, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami, is below.

In-state tuition complaint against Florida by the Southern Poverty Law Center

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17 Responses for “Class-Action Lawsuit Calls Florida’s In-State College Tuition Restrictions Unconstitutional”

  1. comment says:

    Why do we think it should be acceptable to “reward” the children of families who are in this country illegally? I have NO problem with legal immigration, I do however have a big problem with people who enter this country illegally and then believe they have some entitlement to the benefits of our government. Why should they be extended the same rate as a legal tax paying citizen?

  2. Kendall says:

    I hope the SPLC also considers suing if Scott implements his new idea of not offering scholarships unless students are enrolled in specific majors.

  3. Yogi says:

    Make the tuition the same for everyone. Stop forcing the residents of Florida and the U.S. to pay for everyone’s education. Fine the parents for entering illegally and put that money into their children’s education. There is no reason illegals can’t pay a fine for being here and breaking the law. Or stop fining everyone for breaking the law.

  4. elaygee says:

    Punishing children for the sins of their “fathers” is demonic, evil and unAmerican

  5. Nancy N. says:

    The point, “comment”, is that the college student IS a legal tax paying citizen but is being punished for the actions of their parents over which they had no control or input or possibly even knowledge.

    In this country we don’t punish people for actions committed by others – even if those others are related to them.

  6. thinkforyourself says:

    Dear Comment – for all intent and purposes these students ARE legal citizens. THEY were born here. Why should they pay for what their parents did or didn’t do 20 years ago? They had no control over those choices.

  7. Yogi says:

    Out of state U.S citizens are treated differently in spite of their parent’s status as citizens. You people need to think things through a little bit further. This issue isn’t really about equality, it is about subsidizing public education for the good of the public system of education and the public service unions that routinely steal private sector taxpayers money in the name of justice for all. That’s Bull. Fluff. Definitely smudged.

  8. Outsider says:

    OK, for all you who are in favor of supporting these kids’ “rights” as citizens; let’s enforce all laws and deport the parents who have no problem taking all they can get from our government and us taxpayers.

  9. Layla says:

    It’s all about the birth certificate, folks. That’s how the court is going to rule.

  10. Yogi says:

    Actually it is all about lunacy. The author of the article wants you to believe the parents left their proof of citizenship at home by mistake the way it is written. What an insult to the average American.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Yogi, as the author of the article above, let me clarify as explicitly as your prejudices will allow: there’s no intention at all to make you believe that the parents left their proof of citizenship anywhere. They’re undocumented. “Illegal,” in more illiterate terms. The point of the lawsuit as the Poverty Center intends it, is that the parents’ status is irrelevant: their children are adults, they have every proof of Florida residency under the sun, they are American citizens, and they’re being denied a right because of their parents’ status. It is absolutely an insult, even to the below-average American.

  11. I guess that’s one way to ensure a homogeneous society… Not that ability to pay for college education, even on in-State tuition schedule, is doable for the majority of these kids anyway. The bigoted nature of some of these comments makes me forget which country I am in, and then sadly remember it as the fucked up place it’s become.
    What a shameful commentary to our times, Pierre.

  12. comment says:

    I consider myself an above-average American and I am insulted. These children are not adults nor are they tax paying citizens, they are students who should be subjected to the same exact application process as any other student going through the process. I did not realize “illegal” was an illiterate term. As far as common sense goes if you do not follow the laws of the nation, any nation, then you are doing something “illegal” and when you have done something “illegal” there is a price to pay. All humans have to bear the actions of our forefathers in one way or another and so too do the children of illegals. I think the sad f’d up part is how willing Americans are to give away what we ourselves don’t have.

  13. palmcoaster says:

    To Yogi and Comment are you by any chance aware that most countries in the world offer government funded universities and the only requirement to enter is an admission minimum average test that only serious good students will pass? Are you both aware that our student loans debt overwhelmed graduated in USA, have to compete for positions given by the corporate greed to these foreign graduates hired for less as they didn’t have to pay close 60, 80, 100 thousand or more to these univertisities “for profit” to become a professional? In our country Americans like you both, is what keep a big sector of our youth ignorant for lack of affordability, while other than funding some higher education with my taxes they prefer to fund these wars for the benefit of the war suppliers and the corporate oil barons. I agree totally with this lawsuit and hope they succeed. I also hope one day my taxes will be used to fund some government subsidized universities for all American students that can’t afford the “for profit”ones and not these useless wars instead.

  14. palmcoaster says:

    Justice looks like this lawsuit filed, already won.

  15. Yogi says:

    Justice? Think again. We are being used by illegals. Remember there was no welfare, public schools, or free health care in 1868. Therefore we weren’t being targeted by criminals who want to enter our country illegally and use the system for their benefit without legally making the transition.

  16. comment says:

    Yogi, I was going to write the same thing, but did not have the energy to engage with the “below average” American’s who want to give away all that we work for, to people who violate OUR constitutional rights!

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