02/06/2012 12:08 pm ET Updated Apr 07, 2012

Hey Florida Leaders: You Have a Rare Opportunity to Support the Right to Education

During an era when anti-immigrant politicians and pundits have effectively stalled all efforts at comprehensive immigration reform, there does not seem to be any chance on the horizon for policy change on the national level. On the state level, leaders of several states, such as Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia, have expressed their frustration by implementing ill-advised forms of immigration policy. Evidently following similar sentiments, last week the Florida Senate Committee of Higher Education, focusing on immigration instead of education, voted down a bill that would have allowed all U.S. citizen residents of this state the right to pay in-state college tuition.

This week, the Florida Judiciary Committee will have the opportunity to effectively revisit that issue as well as a related one, which has been before this state's legislature at least a dozen times in roughly a decade. Senate Bill 106 as well as House Bill 81 would provide in-state tuition for all students who graduated from high schools in Florida. The bills would effectively ensure that all resident youth of the state have the opportunity to obtain higher education. Currently, U.S. citizen youths who have undocumented parents as well as youth that came to this country with their migrant worker parents pay out-of-state tuition, which is as much as four times higher than in-state tuition. Such rates are, all too often, cost-prohibitive for many Florida families.

Such an educational cost structure not only hurts these families, it ultimately hurts all our collective futures. If for some reason, the judiciary committee debates become a referendum on undocumented immigration, I hope Senate leaders, such as Senator Anitere Flores, can ensure that the tenor of the debate is not a referendum on a national issue, but on a basic question in this state: the constitutional right of education that all should enjoy. As fellow Senator Rene Garcia reminded us last week, these are not issues concerning immigration, they are issues concerning education equality.

If for some reason anti-immigrant rhetoric appears to be affecting the tenor of the debate, all should recall the words of former Governor Jeb Bush concerning the need for the GOP to appeal to the Hispanic vote. The Hispanic community is too important in this all-too-important state (especially on the national political level). Misguided scapegoating will only serve to hurt this state, and likely shorten or curtail the political opportunists' careers. A prime example of the above warning is readily evidenced by the folly with which the Alabama legislature acted when it undertook its now infamous anti-immigrant measure last year. As a report by Reuters just last week noted, the Alabama anti-immigrant laws are expected to cost that state up to $10.8 billion dollars. Florida leaders, the question is simple: do you want to be known to be like the economically irresponsible Alabama politicians, or do you want to support everyone's right to education? The choice is yours and moment is now!