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PolitiFact Florida | Tampa Bay Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact Florida: Crist has changed stance on tuition rates for illegal immigrants

Charlie Crist now supports charging in-state rates to young illegal immigrants, but he didn’t in 2006.

Charlie Crist now supports charging in-state rates to young illegal immigrants, but he didn’t in 2006.

In a statewide election year when both parties are courting Florida's growing Hispanic vote, the Legislature is debating giving in-state college tuition to young illegal immigrants known as "Dreamers."

Similar efforts have failed in the past decade in Tallahassee. But this year the proposal may have the support of Gov. Rick Scott, who has said he will consider the bill if it also contains a provision he wants, one that is unrelated to immigrants: prohibiting universities from raising tuition above the rate set by the Florida Legislature.

Democrats have counted Hispanics among their supporters in recent elections. In a press release Wednesday, the Florida Democratic Party said Scott's support for in-state tuition is election-year pandering.

The Republican Party of Florida fired back in an email with their own attack against Charlie Crist, the Democratic front-runner for governor:

"Yesterday, Florida Democrats said it was time to 'do what is right' for Florida's Hispanic community, regarding legislation that is moving through the Senate giving in-state college tuition to children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents," the party said in a statement Thursday. "So where does the Florida Democratic Party's own candidate stand on the issue? In 2006, Charlie Crist opposed in-state tuition for illegal immigrants."

Though President Barack Obama overwhelmingly won the state's Hispanic vote in 2012, Hispanics narrowly backed Scott in 2010 according to exit polls, though there was a large margin of error. Past results suggest their vote in the governor's race could be competitive.

We wanted to check Crist's position on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants in 2006 — and in the following years.

The Republican Party cited a 2006 Miami Herald article about Crist when he was attorney general.

According to the story, Crist said state lawmakers "did the 'right thing' earlier this year when they rejected a bill allowing children of illegal immigrants to pay the same tuition rates as Florida residents."

That year a proposal to give certain Florida residents who were illegal immigrants in-state tuition divided Republican legislators and drew opposition from Senate President Tom Lee. Ultimately, the proposal failed. (Then-Gov. Jeb Bush said he supported giving in-state tuition to those children if they had lived in Florida at least two years, but he also said it wasn't the year to deal with it, so the controversial provision was removed from an education bill.)

We went in search of other statements by Crist about giving in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants and found little else. It did not appear that any bills that would grant in-state tuition to Dreamers reached Crist's desk while he was governor during sessions between 2007 and 2010.

An August 2006 article in the Tampa Bay Times included a "yes" or "no" answer from candidates for governor to several questions, including this one: "Should we allow the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at our universities?"

The answer for Crist: No.

Now running as a Democrat, Crist supports in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

"We must immediately pass legislation that allows the children of undocumented parents to attend Florida colleges and universities at in-state tuition levels," Crist said on the immigration page of his campaign website. "It simply isn't fair to punish children of undocumented parents."

This year's bill has the backing of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and passed the House 81-33 in March. In the Senate, a similar measure passed in committees but hasn't received a vote by the full Senate yet.

The bill has the support of many public universities in Florida, and other Republican governors have signed similar measures, including Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.

A footnote about Scott and the Dreamers bill this year: Scott has expressed support for the Senate version of the bill, which includes getting rid of the tuition differential that allows universities to raise rates beyond what the Legislature sets. The House version doesn't include that provision. When asked about the House bill April 1, Scott reaffirmed his support for the Senate version.

"I'm going to work with the Senate and the House to make sure we have a bill that lowers tuition for all Floridians," he said.

Overall, the statement about Crist's position 2006 is correct: We found newspaper articles that stated Crist, then running as a Republican for governor, opposed in-state tuition for Dreamers. We rate the statement True.

For more fact-checks about the Florida governor's race, go to www.politifact.com/florida.

The statement

"In 2006, Charlie Crist opposed in-state tuition for illegal immigrants."

The Republican Party of Florida, April 10 in a statement

The ruling

PolitiFact ruling: True
Though he now supports in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, that wasn't always the case. In 2006, Crist did oppose in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. We rate the statement True.

PolitiFact Florida: Crist has changed stance on tuition rates for illegal immigrants 04/13/14 [Last modified: Sunday, April 13, 2014 9:18pm]
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