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Immigrant Youth Push for In-State Tuition Rate at Palm Beach State College

Out of the shadows and into the classroom, Palm Beach State College students who are undocumented but whose immigration status is unresolved are pressing the school to allow them to pay in-state tuition rates. The move comes on the heels of decisions by two other area schools to arrange such treatment.

PBSC officials say that the school's hands are tied by state residency laws and that it lacks the funds for alternative measures such as waivers.

Tuition for out-of-state students at PBSC is three to more than four times as expensive as for in-state residents -- $556 per credit hour compared to $120 per credit hour for baccalaureate degree courses. Engineering student Victor Herrera-Ramirez, an activist, described that to New Times as "a big handicap."

Herrera-Ramirez said about 30 students, drawn largely from those registered with PBSC's Global Education Center, are active in the movement; GEC director Dr. Jeannett B. Manzanero says "an unknown number" of the school's students would benefit from the reduced rate.

Students seeking the in-state rate are classified as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). They were born overseas and brought to the U.S. as children by parents who were undocumented. Federal officials granted them deferred action status in June 2012, declaring them "authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be present in the United States" and "considered by DHS to be lawfully present during the period deferred action is in effect."

Florida officials have not been so gracious. When the Legislature in June passed a law allowing DACA youth to apply for temporary driver's licenses, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the measure. Acting as a one-man Supreme Court, Scott effectively declared DACA unconstitutional, "a federal government policy adopted without legal basis."

Immigration attorney Aileen Josephs, an advocate for the DACA students, argues that state law allows each college in the state system to determine tuition rates. She cites the language of Florida Statute 1009.23 (4). PBSC holds DACA students "nonresident for tuition purposes" under F.S. 1009.21.

"Since PBSC allows other special categories of immigrants, such as Haitian nationals with temporary protected status and other students with deferred action, to pay in-state rates," Josephs told New Times," it is suspect to not allow the same protection to DACA students."

A cache of documents making the legal case for DACA students is here.

In-state tuition rates have been granted to DACA students at Florida International University and Miami-Dade College. But those steps were taken not by designation of resident status but by the use of fee waivers, a certain number of which are alloted to each institution in the state higher education systems.

"I don't know how FIU is funding it," PBSC media rep Tabatha McDonald told New Times. "We don't have the funding to do the waivers."

Victor Herrera-Ramirez argues that reduced rates for DACA students would actually increase school revenues, as "there'd be a great many more students enrolled." He describes the present situation as "a waste of human resources."

"Many of us are the children of parents who are themselves educated and who now work largely at unskilled labor -- housekeeping, fast-food, construction," he told New Times. "To deny us educational opportunity is to deny us the chance to participate and give back to society."

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.

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