Flanked by students from across the state, a group of Florida lawmakers endorsed legislation to allow the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition for college, if they went to high school in Florida.
The bills, sponsored by Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, Rep. Hazelle Rogers, D-Lauderdale Lakes, and Sen. René García, R-Hialeah, would change Florida's controversial policy of denying in-state tuition benefits to U.S. citizens who are children of illegal immigrants.
"It is unfair and unjust to take away a student's right to their education based on where their parents are from," said. Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, a Haitian-American in support of House bill, HB 441. "This is America," she said. "The United States of America. So, out-of-state tuition for students born in America needs to end immediately and now."
Several students from different parts of Florida joined the lawmakers, holding up signs with pictures of other students who have to pay out-of-state tuition even though they were born in Florida.
Renato Lherisson, a Haitian-American from South Florida, said he was denied in-state tuition because of the legal status of his parents.
"When my father passed away, I was 13 and I knew he would have wanted me to attend college," he said. "I went to high school in Hollywood for two years, and when I tried to enroll in college they told me I would have to pay out-of-state tuition. I was born in Florida, I went to high school in Florida and I want to work in Florida."
Campbell said she would reach out to Miami Dade College about Lherisson's case.
The issue has also reached the Republican presidential primary, where candidates currently campaigning in Florida have laid out their views on U.S. immigration policy.
In a forum hosted by Univision, former House speaker Newt Gingrich said U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants should be granted in-state tuition benefits. Both Gingrich and Mitt Romney said they were against giving tuition benefits to students who were brought to the U.S. illegally.
Neither the House bill nor the Senate bill, SB 1018, have been scheduled for any hearings.