Yeseterday the Florida State Senate once again rejected SB106 the bill that would have provided in state tuition to undocumented residents and US citizen children of undocumented parents in Florida. Instead of choosing to invest in the future of our state by increasing access to education to all youth, our elected officials pandered to the anti-Latino sentiment in our state. But what was most shameful is that none of the members of the Hispanic Caucus co-sponsored this important piece of legislation, even though the great majority of those who would benefit are Latino youth.
Forcing undocumented youth from the Sunshine state to pay out of state tuition creates huge barriers to educational attainment and disparities in educational opportunities. It's shameful that a state that proudly proclaims the title of "Gateway to the Americas" shies away from educating the very workforce that could help to increase its ties with Latin America.
Undocumented college students are great assets to our communities. Many, like me, are also outstanding students. I will never forget that day back in 2008, the president of Miami Dade College Wolfson campus called me to his office. Not knowing the reason for him to call me, I became anxious. When I finally arrived he said, "Felipe, you were just awarded the New Century Scholar Award and the All Academy USA first team scholarships." My heart skipped a beat at that moment and tears rolled down my cheeks.
These two awards made me the best student in Florida's entire community college system and in the top 20 community college students in the country. Shortly after, the Secretary of Education called me "one of the reasons why Florida should be proud of its educational system" and the state Senate passed a resolution congratulating me.
Ironically the same people who bragged about my academic endeavors and my contributions today voted to prevent undocumented youth to get a college education.
Even though I have lived in Florida most of my life, as an undocumented student, I pay four times as much as US citizens and permanent resident Floridians pay for the same education. It is not fair. I have been paying local sales tax and income taxes for the last 11 years--I too deserve to benefit that our state has to offer.
Lack of courage from our leaders in Tallahassee has put in jeopardy the future of Latinos in Florida and the future of our state. Thousands of undocumented students and many more US citizens born to undocumented parents will have uncertain futures. It is unlikely that they will continue going to school after graduating from their high schools because of the cost.
Limiting access to education to close to 200,000 undocumented youth in Florida hurts us all.
Follow Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/f_matos007