Florida Lawmakers Play Political Football With Undocumented Students

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A widely supported bill in Florida that would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public universities may die without the chance to become law.


Republican Senate President Don Gaetz refuses to allow a Senate vote on the bill, which has already passed the state’s House and has cleared three of four Senate committees.

Gaetz wrote an opinion piece last week for the Northwest Florida Daily News saying that he cannot support the proposal even if it is a political win for Republicans, who by his own admission have “lost” Hispanic support over the last decade.

“SB 1400 is not limited to Hispanics,” he wrote. “It casts a blanket of approval over noncitizens who are in this country without proper legal status from anywhere in the world, including countries that are caldrons of terrorism and anti-American violence.”

“Though I am likely in the minority in the Legislature,” he added, “I cannot support taxpayer subsidies in the form of tuition discounts for undocumented or illegal students.”

But undocumented students have pointed out that their families do pay taxes and say preventing DREAMers from paying in-state tuition could prevent them from attending college altogether.

“It’s offensive to watch the college aspirations of students like my sister and I reduced to a political numbers game,” Camila Ceballos, an undocumented student, wrote in the Tallahassee Democrat. “And what’s more, since Florida schools are partially funded through state sales taxes, Gaetz is denying us a benefit we have already paid for.”


The issue is clearly a political hot potato.

Republican Governor Rick Scott, who is in an extremely tight reelection race with Democratic opponent Charlie Crist, backs the bill. So does Crist, who has lambasted Scott for not doing enough to support the issue.


But Crist was singing a different tune a few years ago when he was governor. Back in 2006, Crist, who was a Republican at the time, said that legislators "did the right thing" by rejecting a similar proposal.

Proponents of the bill are sick of the political football game. They say the flip-flopping minimizes the very real fact that out-of-state tuition can cost triple what state residents are charged, a blow made worse by the fact that undocumented students are ineligible for federal student loans.


While 17 states, including California and Texas, offer DREAMers in-state tuition, most, including states with significant undocumented populations, like Arizona, do not. Some schools offer scholarships for undocumented students, but they are limited and students still struggle to pay for things like dorm rooms and textbooks.

Gaetz’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether he plans to reconsider his position in the face of pressure from Scott and other Republicans. But DREAMers will know one way or the other soon. The Florida Senate adjourns next Friday, May 2 for the year and will not reconvene until next March.


Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.