MIAMI â€” The immigration debate in Florida and the nation has been going on for years, but until last week, the plight of students like Wendy Ruiz had been largely invisible.
Born and raised in Miami, Ruiz is a U.S. citizen. But in the eyes of Floridaâ€™s higher education system, sheâ€™s a dependent student whose parents are undocumented immigrants â€” and not considered legal Florida residents.
So Ruiz is charged higher-priced out-of-state tuition, even though she has a Florida birth certificate, Florida driverâ€™s license and is a registered Florida voter. One semester of in-state tuition at Miami Dade College costs about $1,200, while out-of-state students pay roughly $4,500.
Many students are unable to pay the higher cost. Ruiz has been attending Miami Dade College and, so far, has a 3.7 grade point average, but must work multiple part-time jobs just to pay for one class. Other similarly affected students have completely given up on college.
â€œAs an American, and a lifelong Florida resident, I deserve the same opportunities,â€ Ruiz said. â€œI know that I will be successful because I have never wanted something so bad in my life like I want this.â€
Last week, Ruiz and several other South Florida students emerged as the lead plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit challenging Floridaâ€™s in-state residency guidelines. The same week, a Jacksonville state legislator filed a bill that would grant in-state tuition to students like Ruiz.
The lawsuit and the proposed legislation have focused attention on a little-known issue in Florida, where immigration activists have long concentrated on passage of a federal Dream Act.
The proposed Dream Act has languished in Congress for years. It would legalize certain
undocumented immigrants who have been accepted into college or the military. Such young people were typically brought to the United States illegally as children.