Skip to main content

Give immigrant kids a fair shake

By Charles Garcia, Special to CNN
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Wed September 12, 2012
Charles Garcia says a judge was right in ordering that American-born children of immigrants be given in-state tuition rates.
Charles Garcia says a judge was right in ordering that American-born children of immigrants be given in-state tuition rates.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Charles Garcia: A judge ruled that children of immigrants in Florida deserve in-state tuition
  • He says children born in the U.S. are American citizens, shouldn't be treated differently
  • Garcia: Give young people a chance at college and they'll boost the economy

Editor's note: Charles Garcia, who has served in the administrations of four presidents, of both parties, is the CEO of Garcia Trujillo, a business focused on the Hispanic market. He was named in the book "Hispanics in the USA: Making History" as one of 14 Hispanic role models for the nation. Follow him on Twitter: @charlespgarcia

(CNN) -- Like a viper that slithers through the garden -- mostly unseen, menacing, dangerous -- a troubling trend is taking hold in this country, a movement to shake the foundations of what "born in the USA" means.

Wendy Ruiz was born in Miami in 1992. She graduated from a Miami public high school in 2010 and applied to Florida International University, a four-year state college that required her to disclose her parents' federal immigration status. Ruiz was unable to provide this information, so she was denied admission.

She then applied to Miami Dade College to complete a two-year degree. When her acceptance letter arrived, there was a catch: She would be required to pay the out-of-state tuition rate. How could this be possible when Wendy Ruiz had lived her entire life in Florida?

As the law stands, all children born in the United States, including those to undocumented immigrants, are granted U.S. citizenship. There are approximately 4.5 million American children like Wendy Ruiz who are U.S. citizens by virtue of birthright, yet whose parents are undocumented for federal immigration purposes.

Charles Garcia
Charles Garcia

These U.S. citizen children of undocumented parents are Americans. Many will join the military and help fight our wars to keep us safe. Most of them will someday work and pay Social Security taxes so our aging population can enjoy a comfortable retirement (perhaps even in Florida).

Yet politicians seeking to brandish their nativist credentials will do almost anything to discriminate against these American children, whom they call "anchor babies."

One of the most egregious examples of this blatant discrimination -- one such "viper" -- occurs in my home state. The Sunshine State is the only state that unambiguously denies in-state tuition to U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants. (Similar cases have arisen in other states, like Arizona, Colorado, California, New Jersey and Virginia.)

Undocumented valedictorian stays in U.S.
Thousands line up for deportation relief
FAIR pres: Obama rewrote immigration law

This out-of-state classification not only denies these students the preferential treatment in the admissions process that residents usually receive, but it also affects the tuition they must pay as "out of state" students.

The tuition difference is stunning. At Miami Dade College, the cost per year in the two-year associate degree programs is $2,532 for residents, compared to $9,047 for students classified as nonresidents. The cost per year in the four-year bachelor's degree program at FIU is $2,800 for residents, compared to $12,492 for nonresidents.

The net effect is that these students either delay or entirely forgo a college education because they simply can't afford the higher tuition. This insidious policy excludes talented, qualified young adult citizens from pursuing higher education -- because their parents lack immigration documents.

Such wrongheaded policy has not gone unnoticed. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class action lawsuit in the Southern District Court of Florida charging systemic discrimination.

Last week, Judge K. Michael Moore found that Florida is violating the constitutional rights of American-born children of undocumented immigrants by requiring them to pay higher tuition rates than other students at state colleges. He said, "It is the plaintiffs who, upon graduating from a post-secondary educational institution, receive their names on diplomas, and it is plaintiffs — not plaintiffs' parents, cousins, or siblings — who are entitled to the benefits conferred by such a degree."

Moore was appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1992 and is known not only for his keen intellect but also for his commonsense jurisprudence. Nearly 20 years ago he offered me a clerkship to work with him upon graduation from Columbia Law School and he swore in my Panamanian father as an American citizen in a private ceremony in his office. In his decision last week, his common sense and practical justice was clear; preferential in-state tuition rates for all Florida residents are simply a wise investment in Florida's future.

Columbia University professor Neeraj Kaushal examined the effect of in-state tuition on enrollment rates at universities in California, New York, Texas and Utah, and compared those rates to 46 other states. She concluded that favorable in-state tuition policies resulted in a 31% increase in college enrollment rates. Also, graduates of state colleges tend to remain in the Florida workforce, where they earn more, pay higher taxes, promote the educational attainment of their own children, vote more, depend less on welfare and live healthier lives.

Florida college graduates will typically earn 66% more than high school graduates over their working lives. These higher earnings mean higher tax payments at the local, state and federal levels. A college graduate will likely pay up to 80% more in taxes each year than someone with no college degree. Even during periods of high unemployment, those with college degrees re-enter the labor market sooner. Florida clearly benefits from providing an affordable post-secondary education to all its own high school graduates, regardless of their parents' immigration status.

The state's lawyers argued that "by offering in-state tuition rates to the U.S. citizens of undocumented immigrants, the state would be forced to offer in-state tuition rates to all U.S. citizens." But Moore said the state's claim was based on its "flawed interpretation" of the 1996 federal welfare reform law, because the Florida students who sued the state "are not 'aliens' but rather U.S. citizens."

Local Florida communities benefit, too, from students with a post-secondary education, as the increased salaries of these graduates is predicted to create more than 250,000 jobs and add $33 billion to Florida's economy over their working lifetime if the state realizes its five goals by 2016. If Florida wins, the whole country wins, because education increases the productivity of the United States, and the net effect is a rise in the gross national product.

When one of the most pressing issues of our time -- education -- is seen through the lens of the worldview of those who would call Wendy Ruiz an "anchor baby," denying her what all U.S. citizens are entitled to, the terrible costs of such a vision become crystal clear.

The snake in the garden has reared its head -- and fortunately, wisdom has prevailed in the form of Judge Moore's decision.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Charles P. Garcia.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
America will have its hands full in the Middle East for years to come, writes Aaron David Miller.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Sat November 15, 2014
Gene Seymour says it's part of our pioneering makeup to keep exploring the universe
updated 12:42 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
Sally Kohn says the U.S.-China agreement to cut carbon emissions is a big deal, and Republicans should take note.
updated 4:29 PM EST, Sat November 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the Obamacare advisor who repeatedly disses the electorate in a series of videotaped remarks reveals arrogance and cluelessnes.
updated 5:00 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
Reggie Littlejohn says gendercide is a human rights abuse against women, with bad consequences for nations.
updated 11:57 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
The massing of Russian forces near Ukraine only reinforces the impression that Moscow has no interest in reconciliation with the West, writes Michael Kofman.
updated 9:55 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
It takes a real man to make the moves on the wife of the most powerful man in the biggest country. Especially when the wife is a civilian major general.
updated 8:47 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
Proponents of marriage equality LGBT persons have been on quite a winning streak -- 32 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage.
updated 8:58 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
It has been an eventful few weeks for space news.
updated 3:14 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
It's too early to write the U.S. off, and China's leaderships knows that better than anyone, argues Kerry Brown.
updated 1:21 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
"How can Jon Stewart hire you to be 'The Daily Show''s senior Muslim correspondent when you don't even know how to pronounce Salaam Al-aikum?!"
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT