Legislature debates in-state tuition rates for undocumented students

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Posted: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 4:56 pm

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Florida House of Representatives is taking up a bill that would offer in-state tuition rates to children of undocumented immigrants living in Florida, with hundreds of affected students in Tallahassee today urging more lawmakers to support the cause.

In-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants has been a controversial topic, though the move has gotten bipartisan support in recent months.

"I just started this semester and for two classes I paid almost $3,000," says Thania Erresuris, a student at State College of Florida. While $3,000 for one semester may not sound all that alarming, that amount is 380 percent higher than the in-state rate. Erresuris is forced to pay the higher rate despite the fact that she’s lived in Florida for most of her life.

"I had to do the Dream Act, so I’m basically not a resident in the eyes of the school, so I have to do out-of-state tuition,” she says. “I don’t like it because I've been here since I was 3 and this is my home, and I feel like it’s unfair because I've never been over to Mexico or anything."

Erresuris is one of the many undocumented students facing what she calls unjust tuition rates.

"If it was regular tuition I would be able to take more classes, but because of [the higher cost] I can only take two," she says.

The issue has caught the attention of lawmakers, with the Senate Education Committee passing a measure to that would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state college tuition. With the bill coming before the entire House Wednesday, immigration attorney Victoria Karins says passage would have a major impact

"This bill will largely benefit the Hispanic community, as that population is trying its hardest to advance in our society by attempting to get a better education [and] better jobs," Karins says.

For dreamers like Erresuris, who is also a single mother on a fixed income, yes votes for HB 851 and SB 1400 would allow her to take more than two classes a semester, in turn helping her reach her ultimate goal much quicker.

"For me, education is important because I want to prove to my daughter that they need education. … I want to study nursing. I want to be a nurse. I want to actually further it to be a doctor, and I need this education to be able to further my self in life." Erresuris says.

The House was still debating the measure as we published this story. We will update this page as more information about the vote becomes available.

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