Bill to Protect Children of Undocumented Residents

Rep. Reggie Fullwood D-Jacksonville, has filed House Bill 441, which would allow children of undocumented parents to pay lower in-state resident tuition costs.

The “Resident Status for Tuition Purposes,” bill was filed on Friday, Oct.1 at 11:29 a.m., days after the state was sued by five students who are Florida residents but are charged out-of-state tuition because their parents are not legal residents.

According to Fullwood, the bill was not filed as a result of the lawsuit.

“We started working on this bill a couple of months back, when a constituent came into my office,” Fullwood said. “He was not considered a Florida resident for tuition purposes because his parents are undocumented citizens, despite the fact he lived in Florida all his life.”

The bill will help regulate how students will be classified as residents or non-residents. According to the Florida Statutes governing tuition rates, legal residence is defined by being a Florida resident for at least 12 months before the student enters school. There is nothing in the statute that refers to the immigration status of parents.

Students who are legal citizens but are children of illegal immigrants are required to pay out-of-state tuition, even if they have lived in Florida their entire life.

“The bill wouldn’t hurt colleges financially because we are talking about such a small group of people,” Fullwood said. “These are folks who, most times, aren’t going to college because they can’t afford it. Really, it’s an issue of fairness and equality. Folks who are born citizens of the U.S. should be treated as such.”

HB 441 will allow a dependent child who is a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident or a legal alien to attend college and be classified as an in-state resident, even if the parents are undocumented citizens in the U.S.

To achieve in-state resident status, however, the student must attend a Florida high school and for four consecutive years, enroll in an institution of higher education within 12 months after graduating and submit their transcript to the institution of higher education prior to enrolling.

If approved, the bill will require the Florida Board of Governors to set regulations on how students will be classified for tuition purposes. The State Board of Education must subsequently adopt and abide by the rules.

“I can see both sides of the issue. Allowing these citizens to pay in-state fees would benefit the campus because all colleges and universities are in need of young people to attend and graduate,” said James Earl Norman, a Spanish professor at Florida A&M.

“After obtaining their degrees, they would then be able to contribute to the global economic marketplace. It would then allow them to contribute to the economy through the tax system, and that will completely address any financial breaks they may have received while attending college.”

Chelsea Scott, a second-year psychology student from Atlanta, said she agrees with the bill and hopes it will enact a change.

 “Hopefully there will be a resolution. I feel that if a student has lived in a place long enough for what is defined as a permanent resident, they should be classified as a resident,” Scott said. “I don’t think the children should be penalized or pay high prices because their parents are illegal.”

Although, Fullwood insists that the HB 441 is not a response to the lawsuit, he‘s certain that the bill will have positive outcomes for all Floridians.

“My goal is simply to make college affordable for all United States citizens and Florida residents so they can get good jobs and help improve Florida’s economy,” Fullwood said. “But the timing is pretty good for the proposed bill and the lawsuit.”