Five American-born children of illegal immigrants have filed a class-action lawsuit in Florida because they are being charged out-of-state college tuition due to their parents' immigration status.
According to The Palm Beach Post, the lawsuit accuses the state of discriminating against particular U.S. citizen students solely because of the immigration status of their parents, which the plaintiffs claim is unconstitutional and simply unfair due to the much higher out-of-state rate which makes it more difficult to pursue a higher education.
"Many talented American students must either forgo higher education or incur extraordinary costs, in both money and time, in order to obtain the same education made available to other Florida residents at a small fraction of the cost," the suit says.
"Even if you can prove you are a U.S. citizen, they are then asking you if your parents are U.S. citizens," said Attorney Tania Galloni of the Miami office of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who is representing the students in a class action suit, The Palm Beach Post reported.
"There is nothing in the statute that says they have to do this. This is an interpretation of the law being made by state officials," Galloni added.
According to NPR, 19-year-old Wendy Ruiz,a sophomore at Miami Dade College, is currently paying the $5,000 per semester out-of-state rate because her parents lacked immigration papers.
Ruiz plans on transferring to a four-year college next year to continue her studies, but when she found out she would have to pay $18,000, she decided to join the suit.
"I can't afford that. So that's why I was like, I need to speak up, because I can't pay for this amount on money, you know? And I should be in-state, not out-of-state," Ruiz told NPR.
It is unclear whether or not the state will aggressively fight the lawsuit, reports say.
Michael A. Olivas, a professor of immigration and higher education law at the University of Houston, told the Miami Herald that no other state in the country has a similar law.
"There's no asterisk on citizenship," Olivas said. "Either you are or you are not."
"This is going to be expensive for them to defend," Olivas said of Florida. "It's going to be foolish, and, ultimately, they're going to lose."
If the state does choose to fight the lawsuit, there will be another fight to be had, as well. In an indirectly related move, state Rep. Reggie Fullwood introduced a bill to the state legislature that would allow children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition if they went to a Florida high school for four consecutive years and enrolled in a college less than 12 months after graduation.
The bill, Fullwood said, was inspired by an American-born child of Nigerian immigrants, the Miami Herald reported.
"None of us can control who our parents are," Fullwood said. "These are all U.S. citizens, folks who have been here all their lives, and they deserve the right to have an affordable education."
Although the bill would be an improvement for current American-born children of undocumented immigrants, some observers believe such legislation highlights how differently citizens of the same country are treated.
"As an American, and a lifelong Florida resident, I deserve the same opportunities," Ruiz said in an article by the Miami Herald. "I know that I will be successful because I have never wanted something so bad in my life like I want this."