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Florida Legislators Finally Say Yes to Our Future

House of Representatives Passes In-State Tuition for Immigrant Youth, Bill Headed now to Governor Scott’s Desk

Tallahassee, FL – This morning, the Florida House of Representatives passed House Bill 851 to expand college access for undocumented students in Florida, who grew up in the state, attended for at least 3 years and graduated from a high school in Florida. This bill provides waivers that will allow them to pay in-state tuition when enrolling in state colleges or universities. The final vote showed once again overwhelming support, with 84 YEAS and 32 NAYS. The bill gained 3 additional votes since the last time it was voted in the House of Representatives on March 20th.

A couple of amendments were filed in the House floor, which, if approved, could have sent the bill back to the Senate for yet another vote. But some members, including Rep. Hazelle Rogers and the very sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jeanette Núñez, asked members of the House to “not take any chances for the DREAMers” and approved the bill. The bill is now headed to the Governor’s desk for his signature in order to become law in Florida.

The following is a statement from María Rodriguez, Executive Director from the Florida Immigrant Coalition:

“After more than a decade in the making, today our hearts swell and tears flow as we celebrate the official passage of in-state tuition for low-income, immigrant youth in Florida. With this first step towards tuition equity, we are inching forward in pursuit of real opportunity and equality for all.

Since 2003 when the first In-State Tuition bill was introduced, optimistic youth have travelled year after year from communities all over our peninsula, to tell their stories of struggle, effort and dreams. It should have been a no brainer, like it was in 19 other states that already have similar tuition equity laws. We don’t know why it took Florida over a decade; whether it was a short-sighted attitude of scarcity, punitive xenophobia or downright racism. Sadly, the heated debate in the Senate showed that such sentiments are still present. But so is the recognition that these kids are our kids, our Florida, our future. Why would improving the lives of nearly 200,000 students and investing in Florida’s future professionals ever be a bad thing?

Tonight, young DREAMers across the Sunshine state will be sleepless with giddiness, imagining their possibilities. With more affordable and fair rates many of our first generation immigrants will now be the first in their family to go to college. This policy will reduce high school drop-out rates, improve educational achievement and positively impact disparities and diversity in many professions.

Obviously the political context of the gubernatorial race is a factor to this years’ success. In fact, this passage marks a historic change in a legislature that three short years ago, in 2011, attempted to impose anti-immigrant laws in Florida fueling anti-immigrant sentiments. The choices are clear. Exclusion and anti-immigrant sentiments are stuck in the past, while diversity and inclusion are the future potential of our state as exemplified by the Dreamers.

We commend Speaker Weatherford, Senator Jack Latvala and Representative Jeanette Núñez for delivering the baton on this 10 year effort, even against some opposition in their own party.

Our work is far from over. Shortly after we celebrate and mark this moment, we will endeavor to remove obstacles for immigrant families to maximize their potential and their contributions to our state. One such barrier is the lack of drivers licenses. We believe this is another win-win for our state, promoting the prosperity of Florida’s family and the competitive edge for our state’s future.

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