Wendy Ruiz and Noel Saucedo pay three times as much money as a typical student attending Miami Dade College.
The reason: failure to prove their parents’ legal residency.
Ruiz and Saucedo sued the Florida State Board of Education and the Florida Board of Governors over a policy that denies U.S. citizens the right to pay in-state tuition if they can’t prove their parents’ residency.
The class-action lawsuit is being filed by The Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of MDC students Ruiz, Saucedo and three other college-bound students. All of the students are U.S. citizens, have graduated from Florida high schools, and have lived in Florida for many years. However, their parents are undocumented.
“This is an injustice for any student,” said Juan Rodriguez, youth development coordinator for the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC). “U.S. citizens are being punished and forced to pay out-of-state tuition as if they are international students.”
FLIC has been supporting this case for several years. The coalition works to secure equal rights for immigrants through community education, advocacy, and coordination of immigrant organizations such as Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER), which has four chapters at MDC.
The lawsuit is filed against Gerard Robinson, Florida commissioner of education, and Frank T. Brogan, chancellor of the state university system.
Both the Florida State Board of Education and the Florida Board of Governors office, as well as Saucedo, Ruiz and the other plaintiffs, can’t comment on the open investigation.
According to the state university system of Florida, a student and his or her parent or legal guardian may be asked to provide documentation that proves their residency in Florida in order to determine their tuition status.
Ruiz, 19, is in her second year at MDC. Because she is classified as a “non-resident,” she pays $4,523.64 per term for a two-year associate degree, three times the $1,265.76 an in-state student would normally pay.
Because of the cost, Ruiz can’t afford to take a full course load and will need three years to complete her two-year degree at MDC, she said.
“Wendy has struggled so much trying to pay for education,” Rodriguez said. “Talented students should have the support of the government.”
Some students involved in the lawsuit, such as Caroline Roa, who has lived in Florida all their life, will not be able to attend college until they gathers enough money to pay for it.
“It is not smart for the state of Florida to have students such as her barred from being able to excel,” said Carlos Roa, Caroline’s older brother.
Carlos is an MDC student and SWER member. He is not a U.S. citizen like his sister; he is undocumented.
However, he supports his sister’s advocacy.
“She wasn’t meant to be an advocate, but her circumstances forced her to become an advocate,” Carlos said. “In a state she was born in; in a state she was raised in. This is an educational injustice.”