Governor Signs In-State Tuition Bill for Immigrant Students, Must be Campaign Season

State Rep. Reggie Fullwood

For the last several years, Democrats in Tallahassee have been trying pass legislation that allows Florida students whose parents are undocumented residents to have some of the same opportunities as other students, like in-state tuition and the ability to get a drivers license.

Those attempts at helping these students had all failed until recently. Last year, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford made a bold statement after being sworn in that he would support in-state tuition for students that attended Florida high schools whose parents are undocumented.

Many Democrats cheered while Republicans were torn right down the middle. For the GOP, this is an issue that they haven’t been able to pick up ground. Hispanics have become the largest minority group in Florida, which makes their vote critical to any candidate’s state-wide success. 

So although it’s painfully obvious that Republicans should be more considerate of issues like immigration reform and in state tuition for undocumented students – the ultra-conservative arm of the party is anti-immigration reform.

Think about this for a moment – Florida Governor Rick Scott campaigned that he would bring tougher Arizona-like immigration laws to Florida if elected. That won him a lot of favor with the conservative base, which helped him win his primary battle before eventually beating Alex Sink.

Fast forward to this year’s legislative session and the political maneuvering was impressive. House leadership married the undocumented student tuition with in-state tuition for veterans, and a major change in the “differential tuition” law. 
The Governor was adamant about passing a repeal of the Charlie Crist supported differential tuition law, which allowed 15 percent increases in tuition at state universities to be approved by the Board of Governors without legislative support.

Although this was one of Weatherford’s signature pieces of legislation/policy – many Senate Republicans and conservative groups opposed the concept. Marrying the various tuition related issues and a little horse trading here and there between the House and Senate allowed for the bill to pass this year’s legislature.

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Monday, which is a total flip flop from his position four years ago.
When it comes to issues like in-state tuition for undocumented children and immigration reform, Republicans have a real dilemma.

At the heart of the conservative immigration argument is the notion that those people (undocumented residents) don’t belong here in America and should just leave and go back to where they came from. These are the folks that want to build a big wall at the U.S./Mexico border and promote E-Verify programs to “catch” illegals.

Then there are those Republicans who actually support immigration reform and realize that it is a new day in America; and it is better to have a structured path to citizenship versus no adequate process at all.

Then there are those politically savvy GOP members thatthink immigration reform will save their party from extinction. 
The problem is – some of those same Republicans alsoworry that it will create millions of new Democratic voters because those new citizens will flock in masses to the Democrats who were loyal to their concerns the longest.

It is clear which side Gov. Scott has landed on. In Florida,the Latino vote is critical, hence we have a new immigrant in-state tuition law.

We will see if this immigration reform-like bill will help the newly re-imaged Rick Scott in this bid for re-election.Whether you like Scott or not, Monday was a good day for children of immigrants. 

These students can now pay a much more affordable in-state tuition and hopefully continue pursuing their dreams in America.

When speaking about the nation’s young immigrants last summer, President Obama said, “These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag.”
He added, “They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”
Signing off from Tallahassee,
Reggie Fullwood

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