Will Florida give college tuition break to illegal immigrants?

The Florida Senate is considering passage of a bill that would give students living in the US illegally an in-state tuition discount.

The Florida Senate is reviving a tuition break for some Florida high school graduates who are living in the country illegally.

The Senate on Tuesday waived its rules and agreed to consider the Post Secondary Tuition bill before the session ends this week. No one objected to the motion made by Sen. John Thrasher, a Republican from St. Augustine.

The tuition break for students who are living in the country illegal has divided Republicans this session.

Watchdog.org reports that Democrats, many Republicans, Gov. Rick Scott, several former governors including Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist and many news media outlets have piled on — Scott and Crist once opposed the idea, but now support it.

Critics charge the well-meaning proposal is an incentive to break immigration laws, with some blasting the political element of Republicans pandering to Hispanic and Latino voters.

David Caulkett, vice president of Floridians for Immigration Enforcement, told Watchdog.org that any talk of enforcing immigration laws has been ignored.“We’ve been censored,” Caulkett said. “Our side has been cut out of the debate, and no one is talking about the potential impacts.”

Caulkett said he’s concerned about the financial costs of the bill and doubts Republicans will gain more voters than they’ll lose.

Some Florida colleges and universities already allow in-state tuition for students in the US illegally. Florida International University, for example, was the first to do so, according to its website. But the University of Florida doesn’t allow in-state tuition for illegal immigrants because it’s against federal law.

“The University of Florida is prohibited by federal law to provide out-of-state tuition waivers or in-state tuition to these undocumented students,” states a legal opinion sought by the university.

The measure passed the House but it is opposed by many top GOP senators. Sen. Joe Negron of Stuart used a procedural move to keep the bill from advancing.

But Gov. Rick Scott asked the Senate to consider the bill. On Monday, advocates for the bill presented Gov. Scott with more than 13,000 signatures urging him to get the bill before the Senate. Immigrants living in the country illegally, who graduate from Florida high schools, now pay four times the tuition rate that legal Florida residents pay.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the bill's sponsor, has predicted a majority of senators will vote for the measure.

Latvala’s bill would require dependents of undocumented immigrants to attend three consecutive years of high school in Florida and earn a diploma.

The plan would hold steady the percentage of in-state admissions, about 91 percent of university and community college students.

Undocumented students would compete for the same spots as legal in-state students.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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