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Florida Students with Undocumented Parents Push Back on State Law Forcing Them to Pay Out-of-State Tuition

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Earlier this week we wrote about Maryland’s Question 4, a voter initiative that must pass in order to secure a special college tuition rate for Maryland’s undocumented immigrant youth.

Some Florida students, however, have been fighting against state laws that force them to pay out-of-state tuition—not because they are undocumented, but because their parents are.  And now they’ve won.  From ABC News today:

Last month, [Wendy] Ruiz and the five other students won their case after U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore found the state’s policy in violation of equal protection laws in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

“Classifying U.S. citizens students who reside in Florida according to their parents’ undocumented federal immigration status does not advance any legitimate State interest,” read Judge Moore’s ruling. “Much less the State’s important interest in furthering educational opportunities for its own residents.”

Wendy Ruiz, as the article explains, is a US citizen who studied at Miami-Dade College and had to resign herself to paying out-of-state tuition despite being born in the US and living in Florida her entire life.  Because she had undocumented parents,  Wendy was forced to work multiple jobs—at one point leaving school so she could save up enough money to come back again—in order to pay a tuition bill three times higher than the in-state tuition rate she should have qualified for.  After two years of feeling frustrated and wronged, she and four other students brought their case to US District Courts in Florida.

The article notes that while many states—like Maryland before it passed its in-state tuition bill—have laws forcing undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition, forcing US citizen students to pay a higher rate than they are entitled to simply because their parents are undocumented is a whole different ballgame.  Only a few states—like Florida—have resorted to that level of extremism.  Now that Judge Moore has ruled against the Florida law, lawyers think it might mean the end for similarly punitive law in other states.  As Tania Galloni, managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s office, told ABC News:

The judge issued a thorough opinion on why this kind of discrimination violates equal protection.  It sends a very clear message to other states that laws like this don’t pass constitutional muster.

Lawyers for both parties are still meeting with the judge to determine next steps.