Since last fall, a group of students who are United States-born and, in most cases, lifelong residents of Florida, has been waging a legal and legislative battle in the Sunshine State to overturn a policy that charges them out-of-state tuition for public colleges and universities because their parents do not have legal immigration status.
The Southern Poverty Law Center—which filed the class action lawsuit last fall on behalf of five such students in a federal court in Florida—is now asking the court to strike down two state policies that were enacted since 2010 by the Florida State Board of Education and the Florida Board of Governors. Those policies changed how students like those named in the lawsuit are classified for tuition purposes: If they can't prove their parents' legal status under federal immigration law, they are treated as nonresidents, even if they were born in Florida.
That, says the SPLC, is unconstitutional.
Lawmakers tried, and failed, earlier this year to pass legislation that would have allowed graduates of Florida high schools who are U.S. citizens but whose parents are in the country illegally to pay in-state tuition at state colleges.
This is a different twist on the whole debate over immigration status and access to higher education because the students in question are U.S. citizens.
In almost every state, classification as a nonresident drives up the cost of tuition astronomically. In Florida, a nonresident pays three to five times more than a resident, depending on the institution.