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Senators Discuss Immigrant Tuition Equity On UF’s Campus

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Mariana Castro and Jose Velasquez are enrolled in one class because that’s all they can afford right now.

Both UF students are undocumented, and as a result have to pay out-of-state tuition rates without financial aid.

Castro and Velasquez, along with Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-District 39) and Sen. Darren Soto (D-District 14), took part in an immigration reform symposium Thursday evening to address the issue of tuition equity for undocumented students.

“Voicing Realities: Truths About Education and Status” took place at 6 p.m. at Little Hall on the University of Florida campus. The senators engaged in a dialogue with students, administration and community members in attendance on the topic of tuition equity and how individuals can actively create change.

“You oftentimes hear it said that we are a land of immigrants,” Bullard said. “That’s absolutely true. All of us, regardless of how long we’ve been here, how many generations, have a story that begins in another place.”

Castro and Velasquez emphasized the financial strain of having to pay out-of-state tuition. Because they’re each enrolled in only one class per semester, progress at the university has slowed significantly.

According to the UF’s Bursar website, out-of-state tuition is about $11,416 for a 12-credit semester, or $951 per credit hour, compared to $2,505 for a 12-credit semester and $208 per credit hour for in-state students.

Both students have been denied financial aid because of their undocumented status.

“It’s unfair,” said Velasquez, a third-year chemical engineering major. “I grew up here. I feel like I’m an American, and I don’t have the same opportunities that everyone else has.”

Sens. Darren Soto, left, and Dwight Bullard, right, rallied support for tuition equity at an immigration reform symposium Thursday evening at the University of Florida.
Sen. Darren Soto, left, and Sen. Dwight Bullard, right, rallied support for tuition equity at an immigration reform symposium Thursday evening at the University of Florida.

Bullard and Soto have a history of working for immigrant rights. Soto sponsored a bill granting people with deferred action status a driver’s license, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it. Bullard, along with Soto as co-sponsor, has worked for the past four years to pass a bill requiring universities to grant in-state tuition to undocumented students with deferred action status. He intends to bring it back again this year.

“I believe in it,” he said. “I’m definitely excited by the idea that the wave of change is coming, and I think Florida needs to stand on the right side of history and really adopt it as a system-wide policy for all its state universities and Florida colleges.”

Bullard said the most important thing is for every person with the ability to vote to do so. He urged people to be informed, to know the names of their congressmen and to vote them out of office when they failed to represent them correctly. He said he hoped the symposium left people with a better understanding of the issue and why active participation as a voter is so crucial.

“I hope they get information,” Bullard said. “I hope they get active. What comes out of this is that I think everyone, all students regardless of your situation, need to get behind tuition equity because it’s important that your fellow student be given the same opportunity as you.”

Liana Guerra, a student ambassador for the Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures, said she hoped the event would attract the administration’s attention and make it consider a policy change.

“This is an issue that affects a lot of students on campus and around Florida who want to come to UF but can’t because they can’t afford it,” she said.

She said groups such as the Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures, CHISPAS and the Hispanic Student Association, along with others, will continue to rally for change. Students will gather at Tigert Hall on Oct. 17 to speak to the administration about tuition equity and pressure it to change the current policy. The groups also hope to organize a rally in Tallahassee next semester to lobby for support from legislators.

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