Conservative Florida Gov. Scott Signs Bill Lowering Tuition for Undocumented Immigrants

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Gov. Rick Scott and running mate Carlos López-Cantera (photo: Wilfredo Lee, AP)

Confronted with a tough reelection battle and in need of votes from Hispanics, Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida has endorsed a controversial bill allowing young illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition rates at state universities.

 

Scott’s support for HB 851 (pdf), which helped the measure clear GOP opposition in the state Senate, represents a dramatic political swing for the conservative governor who has previously opposed efforts to help unauthorized immigrants.

 

“I want students who grew up in this state to have the same chance to live the American dream we have for ourselves and our kids,” Scott told Naples News. “If you grow up in our state, you’re going to have in-state tuition, just like your peers are going to have. You’re going to know your tuition is not going up every year.”

 

PolitiFact Florida pointed out that Scott is a recent convert to making life easier for illegal immigrants.

 

Three years ago, he was asked by Newsmax in an interview about Texas’ plan to qualify illegal immigrant children for in-state tuition. His response: “I believe the federal government ought to do their job. You know, secure our borders. Come up with an immigration policy that Americans understand and people who want to come to this country understand. But with regard to in-state tuition for illegal immigrants I completely oppose it.”

 

That’s not all that Scott was opposed to. Last year he vetoed a bill that would have permitted young undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

 

Scott is up for reelection in November, and polls show former Governor Charlie Crist (a Republican turned Democrat) running neck-and-neck with the first-term governor.

Both Crist and Scott are courting the state’s Hispanic voters, who make up about 14% of the electorate.

 

In addition to Scott’s support of the tuition bill, he named his recently-appointed lieutenant governor, the Spanish-born Carlos López-Cantera, as his running mate.

 

Democrats were quick to criticize Scott for his flip-flopping on the issue.

 

“Let me be clear: this one act, taken in the middle of a re-election campaign, does not erase four years of anti-Hispanic policies by Rick Scott,” Annette Taddeo, vice chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, told Naples News.

 

Under the new law, undocumented immigrants can qualify for in-state tuition if they meet the following requirements: Attendance at a secondary school for at least three straight years before graduating from a Florida high school, after which they have only 24 months to apply for college.

 

The reduced tuition rate is three to four times less than the amount of tuition paid by out-of-state students. About 1,300 students would qualify for it annually.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

Gov. Scott Touts College Tuition Reduction at Campaign Event Near FGCU (by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster and Matt Dixon, Naples News)

Rick Scott Signs In-State Tuition Bill for Undocumented Students (by Chris Joseph, Broward/Palm Beach New Times)

Gov. Scott Signs Legislation that Lowers Tuition for All Florida Students (Governor Rick Scott)

Rick Scott Opposed In-State Tuition for DREAMers before He Embraced It (PolitiFact, Tampa Bay Times)

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