OPINION: Undocumented students should continue to pay in-state college tuition

The law allowing some undocumented college students to pay in-state tuition rates needs to remain in place because it provides them with important opportunities that they may not have otherwise. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/ERIC HAYNES

Pushback from a group of young immigrants known as the Dreamers helped the Florida legislature vote to keep House Bill 851 from 2014 on May 5, according to an article from The Tampa Bay Times.

While the law allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates for college is still in place for now, there’s still suspicion that it could be repealed in the future, which would be devastating to many students. The law needs to remain in place because it helps ensure immigrant students have a bright and successful future.

“Although we stopped it this year, I feel like I have to continue to fight the battle to make sure it doesn’t happen next year and the years that follow,” said state Rep. Vicki Lopez in the Tampa Bay Times article.

Gov. Ron DeSantis had considered repealing this law back in February, according to a Feb. 23 article from Politico.

“Why would we subsidize a non-U.S. citizen when we want to make sure we can keep it affordable for our own people?” said DeSantis in the article.

This sentiment was also expressed several years ago by state Rep. Randy Fine, according to a 2021 article from Florida Today.

“‘We’re not penalizing the kids, we’re simply stating that the state of Florida cannot afford $45 million to pay for their parents’ bad decision,’” said Fine in the Florida Today article.

The education and livelihoods of undocumented immigrants are important to the state of Florida. There are 772,000 undocumented immigrants living in the state and 455,000 of those are part of the workforce, according to the Migration Policy Institute

Over a million people seeking higher education in Florida are immigrants and/or international students, according to the Higher Ed Immigration Portal. More than 40,000 of those students are undocumented. 

Florida also housed 4.5 million immigrants in 2018, and only 29% had a college degree, according to a 2020 study from the American Immigration Council.

College degrees are meant to help people become more employable in the future, so removing this law would make it harder for undocumented students to have successful careers.

The removal of this bill would also be hurtful to USF, which has a significant population of students who are undocumented immigrants, as evidenced by the scholarships, counseling and many other resources that the university offers on their website. One example is the status of Latinos (SOL) Scholarship, which can be renewed to undocumented students or their parents. 

The Dreamers’ means of fighting back against Florida’s politicians wasn’t easy, as many of them “traveled hours by car from cities like Miami and Orlando,” just to discuss the law with the state’s legislators, according to The Tampa Bay Times.

While some lawmakers, like House Speaker Paul Renner, still backed most of DeSantis’ policies, the Dreamers were still able to persuade most of the lawmakers to vote in favor of the law by sharing stories of their own personal backgrounds and career aspirations.

Recent FIU graduate Maria Tinoco was one of many undocumented students who shared their stories, according to The Tampa Bay Times. Without the law that was in place allowing her to pay for the tuition, she may have not been able to attend at all.

The in-state tuition law should not be repealed at any point, as doing so will take away valuable opportunities from many students in Florida’s colleges.