Florida To Offer In-State Tuition To Children Of Illegal Immigrants

Florida is set to become the latest state to allow children of illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition at state colleges and universities:

MIAMI — After weeks of hand-wringing in the State Legislature and last-minute attempts by Senate leaders to scuttle the effort, Florida seems poised to make students who were brought to the United States illegally as children eligible for in-state college tuition, an issue dominated by political calculations at least as much as policy ones.

The Legislature is expected on Thursday to become the 20th state to offer some kind of in-state tuition to so-called Dreamers. Debate on the bill began on Wednesday.

The legislation’s expected passage in the Florida Senate on Thursday, despite enduring divisions among state Republicans, is the latest sign that the state’s conservative Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, plan to intensify their courtship of Hispanic voters. Mr. Scott is running for re-election this year against former Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat. Most polls show him trailing Mr. Crist.

Mr. Scott, who in 2010 pushed for an Arizona-style crackdown on illegal immigration and last year vetoed a driver’s license bill for Dreamers, is already trying to reach Hispanics in Spanish-language commercials (he even offered a Missouri-inflected Spanish sentence of his own). Earlier this year, Mr. Scott selected a Cuban-American former state lawmaker, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, as his running mate. Hispanics make up about 14 percent of the state’s electorate.

“You still have the extreme views within the party that believe that we have to take a more hard-line position,” said Rudy Fernandez, a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and the White House. “What you are seeing in Florida and nationally is that there is growing momentum within the Republican Party to support comprehensive immigration reform and the Dreamers.”

So critical was the legislation’s underlying message to Hispanics in Florida that former Gov. Jeb Bush and former Gov. Bob Martinez, both Republican advocates for immigration overhaul, joined with Mr. Scott in a statement two weeks ago to pressure Senate leaders to support the bill. In taking that stand, Mr. Scott risked upsetting conservatives and the Tea Party Republicans, who were his most loyal supporters when he was elected in 2010.

“Students who have spent their childhood here in Florida deserve to qualify for the same in-state tuition rate at universities their peers and classmates do,” Mr. Scott said in the joint statement.

This is obviously quite a change for Scott, who as noted above was sounding very similar to people like Arizona Jan Brewer when it came to immigration when he first ran for Governor four years ago. But, of course, this is Florida and Scott is in a tight re-election fight against former Governor Charlie Crist. You simply can’t write off the Latino vote in the Sunshine State, and that’s why even Florida Republicans know a good idea when they see one.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. aFloridian says:

    The big thing that always bothers me about this is that American students from other states cannot move to Florida and get in-state tuition right away (the argument being that in-state tuition is a benefit for state citizens subsidized by state taxpayers) so, if they are going to give these “Dreamers” (which is a stupid, loaded term) in-state tuition rates, I hope they are able to ensure the recipients will actually be illegal/undocumented Floridians and not, say, illegal immigrants who moved down from Georgia a month ago.

    Other than that, maybe the Republicans have realized the writing on the wall about immigration and a path to citizenship. I think it is inevitable – after all, what is the alternative, a permanent class of non-citizen residents? a deportation campaign fit for Stalin? The Republican party needs to recalibrate, and it has been anti-black for so long it will be very hard to win that population back to the Party of Lincoln but there are plenty of socially and fiscally-conservative Hispanics who would be inclined to vote Republican if only the GOP would cease its race-baiting anti-Hispanic hysteria.

    I for one am still in favor or a strong border policy for national security reasons, which many Hispanics seem to resent, but perhaps there is some way to increase and streamline legal access to the US for the affected population while also continuing our efforts to stop people from crawling under fences or swimming a river to get to the US. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about border security as a Floridian, so I don’t really know.

  2. rudderpedals says:

    The number eligible will be slight compared to anything else Scott and the Fla GOP could have done for the Hispanics and other less fortunates. This is really low hanging fruit.