Florida Can't Charge Kids With Undocumented Parents More Tuition, Judge Says

Wendy Ruiz was born and raised in Miami. She's a full U.S. citizen, with a birth certificate, a voter registration and a driver's license. And until yesterday, the Miami-Dade College student had to pay nearly four times as much for tuition as any other in-state student. Why? Because her parents are undocumented. 

After hearing testimony about Ruiz's case and other similar tales, a federal judge in Miami tossed the Florida rule behind the tuition hike, calling it unconstitutional.

"(These students) are denied a benefit in the form of significantly lower tuition rates to the state's public post-secondary educational institutions," Judge K. Michael Moore writes, according to the Miami Herald. "This creates an additional obstacle for [them] to attain post-secondary education from one of the state's public institutions that is not faced by other residents."

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit on behalf of a group of students, including several like Ruiz based in Miami.

Unlike the plethora of state laws recently found unconstitutional by higher courts -- from drug-testing state employees to restricting voter registrations and early voting days -- this particular bad rule actually predates Gov. Rick Scott's term in office.

It was created in 2005 by the state's Department of Education and Board of Governors, and affects thousands of students around Florida.

Unlike the students at the heart of the contentious DREAM Act -- who are themselves undocumented immigrants -- the kids affected by Florida's rule are full-fledged citizens. 

The state's attorneys argued that changing the rule would cost taxpayers millions, but the judge ruled the financial impact doesn't matter considering the students are U.S. citizens.

"This policy, which was blatantly unconstitutional, will no longer be a roadblock for these young students who may very well be the state's leaders of tomorrow," Jerry Katzerman, legal director of the SPLC, tells the Herald.

The state's Department of Education is reviewing the ruling and hasn't announced yet if it intends to challenge it.

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