Op-Ed

Don’t repeal Florida’s immigrant tuition bill

TNS

The immigrant community needs no reminder of Trump’s two-year tirade against minorities. His renewed promise to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation as long as they meet certain criteria, has emboldened Florida state Sen. Greg Steube to further threaten our community.

Last week, Steube filed a measure to repeal one of the Florida Republican Party’s greatest achievements, the 2014 in-state tuition bill for undocumented students. This legislation was signed by Gov. Rick Scott, thanks to the leadership of John Thrasher, current President of Florida State University, and others like Jack Latvala and Jeanette Núñez.

As Steube and other Trump-ians threaten our community, Floridians are coming out in support of DACA and DREAMers. This week, President Thrasher renewed his commitment to DACA with a sign-on to Pomona College’s statement in support of DACA and undocumented students, as have other Florida college and university presidents.

Steube seems blissfully unaware of the effect the in-state tuition bill has had on the lives of thousands of immigrants, including mine.

For most students, high school graduation is a day of excitement, possibilities, and the unknown. Instead, my high school graduation day was limited by impossibilities and the unknown — as earlier that year, I discovered that I am undocumented. Without the proper paperwork to enroll at a public university or apply for scholarship money, I didn’t think I would be able to pursue higher education or obtain a job.

My future seemed defined by an incompetent immigration attorney, who mishandled my family’s Green Card application, and by a broken immigration system that refused to recognize my contributions.

Determined to take hold of my future, I became an immigration advocate to fight for policy changes at the state and federal levels.

In 2009, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for the DREAM Act, a bill that would have allowed young undocumented immigrants like myself to obtain legal status, if they pursued higher education or enlisted in the military.

After speaking to lawmakers about the potential impact the bill would have on my life, I decided to venture into one last legislative visit. What happened next defined my future. I entered the House of Representatives office building only to stumble upon a man, unknown to me at the time, named T. K. Wetherell — then-President of Florida State University.

Without hesitation, he shook my hand and said, “You are in the presence of some of the best students in Florida! I just know there is a place for you at Florida State and hope you will consider applying for enrollment.”

I was sold on Florida State University right there and then.

Years later, still undocumented, I was able to graduate from FSU with a Bachelor’s in political science and a Master’s in public administration, thanks to support FSU offers undocumented students.

In 2010, after I matriculated, then-FSU President Dr. Eric Barron wrote a letter supporting the DREAM Act. Later, he called on the Legislature to pass a bill that would allow undocumented students in-state tuition rates at Florida colleges and universities. That same year, Sandy D’Alemberte, president emeritus of FSU, worked tirelessly to ensure that the Legislature allowed an undocumented FSU law graduate into the state bar.

Floridians are no strangers to the plight of the undocumented community, and, following the most divisive elections in our country’s history, we must stand united and defend the in-state tuition bill. As FSU President Thrasher said earlier this week, protecting DACA “is the right thing to do, and I will help these students and others who are already here find a path towards a better future.”

In the face of Donald Trump and Sen. Steube, it is time for Florida to rise to the challenge and recommit itself to helping the undocumented community find their paths to better futures.

Juan Escalante is an immigration advocate and beneficiary of President Obama’s 2012 DACA program. He obtained degrees from FSU in 2011 and 2015 and lives in Tallahassee.

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