Will Florida Grant In-state Tuition to Undocumented Students?

Florida is the latest state to go "all in" on the issue of in-state tuition for undocumented students.

With less than a month until its legislative session begins, the Sunshine State may be gearing up to follow in the steps of New Jersey and Washington State, the most recent additions to a small repertoire of states that have enacted similar measures. However, as it is with most things in Florida, the issue is continuously evolving and there is no real telling as to where it might end up.

A Thorny Issue
Any talk over in-state tuition that comes out of Florida should be led by the following anecdote.

Up until recently, the State of Florida was the only state in the Union not to grant in-state tuition to U.S. Citizens who met the residency requirement, but whose parents were undocumented. Despite attempts to rectify this issue via the legislative process, the state failed all bills dealing with the matter and went on to get sued in federal court over the discriminatory policy.

The court ruled in favor of the students.

Efforts to provide in-state tuition for undocumented students however, in the broader sense, have had a long history within the state.

Over the past decade, the State Legislature has sought time and time again to enact this kind of measure, only to see it fail due to its inability to separate national immigration policy from state immigration policy. Originally filed by then State Representative Juan C. Zapata in 2003, the bill has not gained much traction and has perished as a non-starter.

In 2011, Representative Dwight Bullard, now a state Senator, adopted the issue as his own and is currently on a crusade to help it move along.

Blurred Lines
With the arrival of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, enacted by President Obama in 2012, there have been a lot of questions regarding whether institutions of higher education within the state of Florida are allowed to grant in-state tuition to beneficiaries of the program.

Florida International University, as well as Miami Dade College, already allow undocumented students who have been granted DACA to apply and receive in-state tuition in form of a tuition waiver. Other institutions however, such as the University of Florida and the University of South Florida, have noted that it is out of their purview to extend such a benefit to their undocumented applicants. However, both institutions have publicly stated that they welcome any measure that would allow them to recruit undocumented students within the state.

Nevertheless, there is an underlying understanding that something ought to be done in order to provide guidance to what some may deem as self-regulating institutions. Meanwhile, a professor of law at Florida International University argues that there are already legal channels within Florida law to grant students who have been granted DACA in-state tuition.

Unlikely Ally; Uncertain Future
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises this year was to see Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford come out in support of in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Since his op-ed published in the Tampa Bay Times, there has been a wide array of support across the state for the measure. Newspapers, including the once opposing Orlando Sentinel, praised the Speaker for supporting such a move and have argued that this is a commonsense bill that needs to be enacted this session.

While this has certainly increased the odds, and increased the momentum for the bill, there are still a lot of questions as the 2014 Legislative Session approaches.

Florida Governor Scott signaled that he would "consider" such a proposal, and if his appointment of a Hispanic to the second highest office in the state serves of any indication as to where he might be leaning, then we ought to look to the Florida Senate where President Don Gaetz has taken an issue with the measure.

A Bi-Partisan Dance
With so much back and forth on the issue, it will be up to both Democrats and Republicans to come together and ensure that this is a victory for both Florida and undocumented youth, not their political parties.

As an undocumented student myself, I can state that there are wide concerns that one party may try to one up the other in order to captivate Hispanic voters on this election year.

Let me be clear, undocumented youth only seek to further their studies and contribute back to this great state. A bill that allows us to pay in-state tuition rates would not only allow us to enroll within some of the top universities in the state, but would ensure that those of us who are unable to pay the costs of tuition stay in school rather than dropout.