Five U.S. citizens in Florida are suing the state in a class action because they say that their parents' immigration status has unfairly saddled them with higher tuition rates.
Wendi Ruiz, one of the plaintiffs, pays three times the amount an in-state resident does to attend Miami Dade College, even though she has a Florida high school diploma, bank account, driver's license and voter registration card. Because she must pay $4,500 in tuition per semester--instead of the in-state rate of $1,200--Ruiz will take three years to finish two years of course work in order to earn the additional money to make her tuition.
Jerri Katzerman of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is bringing the suit, says she believes that hundreds of Florida-raised U.S. citizens are paying out-of-state tuition rates now because their parents are illegal immigrants. The state's Board of Governors and Department of Education control in-state residency rules. Katzerman says that the state first began enforcing this rule around 2008.
"We don't choose our parents, if our parents are undocumented or otherwise," says Antonio R. Flores of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, which is not involved in the suit. "They are U.S. citizens and therefore protected by the same laws as everybody else."
State Rep. Reggie Fullwood, a Jacksonville Democrat, told The Miami Herald that he has introduced a bill to ensure students such as Ruiz would be able to access in-state tuition.
Immigrant advocacy groups have been pushing for states to adopt laws granting in-state tuition to young illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children. These advocates argue that such students would better be able to contribute to society if they have wider access to a higher education. (In fact, Gov. Rick Perry has recently fielded flak from his rivals in the 2012 GOP presidential field for signing such a bill into law in Texas.)
But attorneys for an unnamed plaintiff in New Jersey argue that even American-born citizens face discrimination due to their parents' immigration status.
"They are themselves becoming the subjects of a prejudice that is manifesting itself as they are labeled derisively as 'anchor babies,' and as some extremists even question their citizenship under untenable readings of the Fourteenth Amendment," write the plaintiff's attorneys. The plaintiff, referred to as A.Z. in the suit, says the state's public tuition aid agency turned down her application for aid because her mother could not produce a driver's license, which illegal immigrants are prohibited from obtaining in the state. Though A.Z. is a citizen and long-time New Jersey resident, the state's aid-granting agency would not accept her mother's income tax return as proof of residency.
Students in such a position often find it difficult to seek help, for fear of getting their parents in trouble. "They do not dare assert their rights to which they are clearly entitled, for fear of putting their parents at risk," wrote A.Z.'s attorneys.
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