All legal residents should receive in-state tuition

On October 19, 2011

The Florida State Board of Education and the Board of Governors face a federal class-action lawsuit that claims the state has discriminated against U.S.-born students whose parents may be illegal immigrants.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit civil rights group, alleges that students born in the U.S. who can establish Florida residency have been denied in-state tuition because they can't prove their parents are legal citizens, according to an SPLC press release issued Wednesday.

If the allegations are true, then it is clearly wrong to deny in-state tuition to legal residents.

Maryland, Rhode Island and California grabbed headlines this year by granting in-state tuition to non-documented students. In these cases, the argument was that children brought to the U.S. at a young age should not be responsible for their parents' actions, even though they are illegal residents.

The issue at the heart of the Florida lawsuit, however, is not nearly so controversial.

The citizenship status of these students' parents should be a non-issue, as everyone born on U.S. soil is considered a citizen under the birthright citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment, which states, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside."

Until legal interpretation of this clause changes, everyone born here should be treated as a citizen, regardless of their parentage.

"These American students went to the same Florida high schools, held down the same part-time jobs and participated in the same after-school activities as their counterparts who are granted in-state tuition," said Tania Galloni, managing attorney for the SPLC in Florida, in the release. "We are simply asking that these students be granted the same rights as all Florida citizens."

Some argue that the birthright clause should only apply to children of legal immigrants and U.S. citizens, fearing that expecting foreign parents will sneak into the country illegally to give birth and give their child a better life as an American citizen.

Different legislations have been proposed to reflect this interpretation, most recently with the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009.

The clause remains controversial, as demonstrated during Tuesday's GOP presidential debate, when candidates Herman Cain and Rick Perry were asked whether they agreed with the clause. Both gave evasive answers.

Until legal opinion changes, Florida institutions must follow the Constitution.

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