Oelrich key as Fla. Senate panel kills immigration tuition bill
Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 11:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 11:10 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - A bill that would have allowed in-state college and university tuition for certain U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants died Tuesday on a tie vote in the Senate Higher Education Committee.
Opponents were unmoved by emotional testimony from a 20-year-old Miami-Dade College student. Instead, Sen. Steve Oelrich, a Cross Creek Republican who chairs the committee, interrupted Carla Montes to dispute her contention that having to pay out-of-state tuition is unjust and unfair.
Montes, who was born in Miami and graduated from Ronald Reagan High School in Doral, said she cried for three days after being denied in-state tuition. She said her family could not afford the out-of-state rate because it is three times higher.
"As a U.S.-born American citizen I can vote, I pay taxes, I attended school in Florida," Montes told the panel.
"No, no, no, we're talking about your parents," Oelrich interjected. "That's how we establish residency in the state of Florida, by the status of your parents."
"With all respect, the person who is sitting in the classroom, the person who's giving back to this economy is me, not my parents," Montes replied.
She said she worked at a minimum wage job for a year, the minimum waiting period to qualify for in-state tuition as an independent adult.
The bill (SB 1018) would have let U.S. born children of illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition if they graduated from a Florida high school after attending it for at least two years. The same criteria would have applied to students whose parents are incarcerated or cannot be found, said Miami-Dade College registrar Dulce Beltran.
Oelrich argued the bill would have made it easier for illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition for their children than for U.S. citizens who move to Florida from other states.
They must live in Florida for a year before their children can qualify for in-state rates. They also must buy a home in Florida or file a sworn statement with a county court clerk that they have established legal residency in the state.
"I really didn't want this to turn into an immigration issue, an immigration debate," said Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican who sponsored the bill. "The intent of this bill at the end is always to rectify a wrong."
The current law, meanwhile, is being challenged in U.S. District Court in Miami by a group of U.S. born children of illegal immigrants who were denied in-state tuition.
Oelrich also said the bill would have let children who attended boarding high schools in Florida qualify for in-state tuition even if their parents never lived in the state.
Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, offered an amendment intended to close that loophole but it failed on a voice vote. The bill then died after a 3-3 roll call.
Altman and two Democrats, Sens. Gary Siplin of Orlando and Jeremy Ring of Margate, voted for the bill. It was opposed by three Republicans, Oelrich and Sens. Evelyn Lynn of Ormond Beach and Joe Negron of Stuart.
"This decision is closing the door to thousands of Florida residents that are willing to become skilled professionals and contribute to our economy," said Juan Rodriguez, a spokesman for the Florida Immigrant Coalition."
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