It seemed obvious to just about anyone who understands what America is all about: The state’s misbegotten rule that the American children of undocumented parents must pay out-of-state tuition at Florida’s state-run universities is unconstitutional.
It was obvious to U.S. District Judge Michael Moore, who this week ruled that the policy violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. After all, the students unfairly affected are U.S. citizens, born in this country to parents who have not immigrated legally.
The state’s policy punished the wrong people. Worse, it punished just the type of people the state needs and should nurture — young adults who want to continue their education, who want to build careers, who likely believe that American Dream could be theirs with luck, hard work and education. But this now-rejected policy turned it into a myth.
Florida was not the only state to erect hurdles to students born here to undocumented parents. In New Jersey, a state appeals court ruled that one such student was wrongly denied financial aid. A few years ago, in Colorado, the attorney general issued an opinion finding that legal state residents were eligible for in-state tuition even if their parents were in the country illegally.
In Florida, these American students were bound up in the same web that still forces students born in other countries and brought here by parents, who either entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas, also to pay more in tuition. The difference in cost is considerable: Out-of-state tuition for one semester costs $4,500 instead of the $1,200 charged for in-state students at Miami Dade College, for instance. The Florida policy applies to students under 24 who are claimed as dependents by their parents.
But no matter the status of the parents, children who had no choice in creating their situation should not be penalized.
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit on behalf of several students in Florida who could not prove that their parents lived here legally. Attorneys for the state, unable to defend the constitutionality of the policy, argued money instead — that allowing the students to pay in-state tuition would cost financially strapped colleges and universities millions of dollars every year.
So this was an economic strategy? Pumping up revenue on the backs of some U.S. citizens who live in the state, but not others?
State lawyers also argued that Florida would be forced to offer in-state tuition to all students who lived out of state. Huh?
Under Gov. Rick Scott, Florida has not sat still for rulings that haven’t gone its way. In fact, the state continues to throw good money after bad appealing several judicial slapdowns of ridiculous and unconstitutional laws passed by renegades in the Legislature. And the state’s records on winning appeals is dismal — and expensive. So far, courts have rejected egregious attempts to limit residents’ rights to vote, be fairly represented in the Legislature and speak without fear of being penalized by the government.
The state of Florida should recognize the latest abomination to be struck down for what it is: A bad policy unable to pass constitutional muster.
Rather than fight Judge Moore’s decision, the state should forget costly appeals, stop discriminating against these American students and let them pay in-state tuition.
Florida can’t afford to waste its human capital. That should be obvious.