Suit Challenges Florida Tuition Practices

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Florida, challenging the state’s policy of charging non-resident college tuition to Sunshine State residents who are U.S. citizens but the children of illegal immigrants.

Wendy Ruiz, a 19-year-old student at Miami Dade College, is among the plaintiffs in the suit. According to the legal complaint, Ruiz has been charged the non-resident tuition rate at Miami Dade even though she was born in Florida. The suit states non-resident tuition is three to four times higher than in-state tuition at Miami Dade College and other Florida schools.

The suit contends that Florida’s policy of treating U.S. citizens differently based on the immigration status of their parents violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Michael Olivas, an immigration and higher education law expert at the University of Houston, told the Miami Herald that Florida is the only state with these tuition practices, and he predicted the state would lose the lawsuit.

It is uncertain whether the state will defend the law in court or seek a settlement that would include an agreement to change the policy, the Herald reported. However, State Representative Reggie Fullwood, Democrat from Jacksonville, has proposed legislation do away with the policy.

While Florida might be on the cusp of granting in-state tuition to the citizen children of illegal immigrants, other states, such as California and Rhode Island, have recently granted in-state tuition to certain illegal immigrant residents. Texas has had such a policy on the books since 2001, and Governor Rick Perry of the Lone Star State has come under fire for this while on the campaign trail for the GOP presidential nomination.