Keep tuition break for Florida’s DREAMers

Back in 2014, students at Miami Dade College demonstrated for the tuition break from the state.
Back in 2014, students at Miami Dade College demonstrated for the tuition break from the state. MIAMI HERALD

Blame it on the overheated tone of the Donald Trump campaign.

Months before the next legislative session, conservative Florida lawmakers are following in Mr. Trump’s campaign footsteps.

Not surprisingly, among the first targeted are Florida’s undocumented immigrant students, or DREAMers, and specifically, the in-state tuition break state lawmakers granted them in 2014. Now, some lawmakers want to turn back the clock.

The Miami-Dade delegation should reject this effort. Already, Miami Dade College, the institution attended by many of the nearly 900 students who received the reduced tuition in the 2015-16 academic year, has indicated it will help fight State Bill 82.

The bill filed last week by state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, would erase the provision that allows Florida DREAMers to pay tuition that other Florida residents pay, instead of being punished for their legal status with a higher cost.

Mr. Steube’s bill comes at a time of vociferous — and hostile — debate about immigration, which has filtered onto campuses. More than 330 college presidents across the country signed a letter urging President-elect Donald Trump not to follow through on his vow to scrap DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects certain undocumented immigrants from deportation.

In short, if the bill passes it means that Florida’s public colleges and universities no longer would have to waive out-of-state fees for undocumented students who attend high schools in the state.

“Rolling back in-state tuition for DREAMers is tantamount to rolling back the clock in our state’s progress and gains in social justice,” the MDC said in a statement to the Miami Herald Editorial Board. We agree.

It’s safe to say for this provision is make-or-break for many undocumented students to get a college education. Without it, most can’t afford higher education. At Miami Dade College, in-state tuition is $1,418 and out-of-state is $4,830; at FIU it’s $6,497 for in-state and $18,895 for out-of-state.

These students were brought to the United States by their immigrant parents who themselves were undocumented. The thinking has been to give the DREAMers a break since their illegal status is no fault of their own. Today, they have little or no ties to the countries of their birth.

One can say Mr. Steube, a conservative who represents a county that Mr. Trump won, knows what his constituents want. And they don’t want the state to allow illegal immigrants to receive taxpayer-supported in-state tuition, he said.

“I just don’t think it’s good public policy for the state,” Mr. Steube said. We would ask, How good is public policy that will cost taxpayers even more in the long run — in unemployment, in creating fewer taxpayers with decent jobs, in a less-educated populace?

Before passing in spring 2014 — with significant Republican support — the tuition proposal faced a battle among GOP lawmakers.

The hero of the moment was Republican State Sen. Jack Latvala, who came up with a plan to keep the bill alive. Student activists also kept the heat on Senate leaders, staging news conferences and pressing for meetings. Gov. Scott told reporters he considered the bill a priority.