As such, Ruiz, the lead plaintiff in the case, has been charged higher-priced out-of-state tuition at Miami Dade College even though she has a Florida birth certificate, Florida drivers license and is a registered Florida voter. One semester of in-state tuition at Miami Dade College costs about $1,200, while out-of-state students pay roughly $4,500.
Ruiz must work multiple part-time jobs just to pay for one class. Other similarly affected students have completely given up on college.
She was unavailable for comment. But in an interview last year with the Miami Herald at the time the suit was filed, she said: As an American, and a lifelong Florida resident, I deserve the same opportunities.
Said State Rep. Reggie Fulwood, D-Jacksonville, who had filed a bill to help students like Ruiz: I hope todays ruling quickly ends Floridas ridiculous policy of requiring U.S. citizens to pay expensive out-of-state tuition rates simply because their parents legal status. The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature has refused to dismantle this glaring inequity in college admissions policy.
Cheryl Little, executive director of the Americans for Immigrant Justice, called Tuesdays ruling a huge victory that means more smart, ambitious students can access a college education without paying high tuition.
I remember when I first learned that kids who were U.S. citizens had to pay outrageous tuition fees simply because their parents were undocumented, Little said. I couldnt believe it. Its so un-American. This terrible wrong has been fixed.
The ruling gives immigration advocates another victory. Earlier this year, the Obama Administration decided to allow students who came to the U.S. as children a chance to seek deferred action on their immigration status.
Its another step in the right direction. Undoubtedly the real solution to problems like this would be passage of the DREAM Act, Little said.
The DREAM Act remains a hot-button political issue. Advocates for a stricter, hard-line immigration policy say passage would reward those who entered the country illegally.
Unlike those who would benefit from the DREAM Act, the issue for students like Ruiz is radically different because they are, in fact, U.S. citizens.
Moore, the judge, repeatedly noted that point in his ruling. He also said the states rationale for the policy limited financial means and the quality of public post-secondary education was simply incorrect.
The states attorneys argued: If Florida were required to extend the benefit of in-state tuition rates to all United States citizens regardless of their state of residency, the annual impact would be approximately $200,000,000 in reduced tuition.
But Moore said the states claim was based on its flawed interpretation of the 1996 federal welfare reform law. The states lawyers argued that by offering in-state tuition rates to the U.S. citizens of undocumented immigrants, the state would be forced to offer in-state tuition rates to all U.S. citizens.
The judge, however, said the welfare law is inapplicable because the Florida students who sued the state are not aliens but rather U.S. citizens.
Miami Herald staff writer Laura Isensee contributed to this story.