Putting Education Reform To The Test

From Profile To Plaintiff: Student Takes Tuition Fight To Court

Back in August I profiled Caroline Roa, a recent high school graduate ready to start school at Miami Dade College with what she thought would be a full-scholarship.

But weeks before the start of classes, Roa, who was born in Miami, learned her tuition would be three-times higher than she planned for—because Roa’s dad is an undocumented immigrant.

That’s when I got a call from The Southern Poverty Law Center looking to get in touch with Roa and more students like her.

That group has now filed a federal class action lawsuit against the Florida education commissioner and university system chancellor on behalf of Roa and four other students in the same situation.

Tania Galloni is the managing attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Florida office. Galloni said Florida’s policy discriminates against U.S. citizens and violates the Constitution.

“One of the fundamental principals of our country is that a U.S. citizen is a U.S. citizen is a U.S. citizen. It doesn’t matter who your parents are or where they came from,” Galloni said. “So these students are U.S. citizen, but they’re being treated differently from all other U.S. citizens. And the only reason they’re being treated this way is because their parents don’t have immigration status.”

The current policy states that U.S. born students in Florida with undocumented parents must pay out of state tuition unless the student is 24 years or older, married, or claims independent status for tax purposes.

California, Colorado and Virginia had legal issues with similar policies that have since been resolved in favor of citizen children with undocumented parents.

States that offer in-state tuition to U.S. born students with undocumented parents:

  • California
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington


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