I remember getting a lot of glossy pamphlets from prospective colleges during my senior year of high school and thinking about what it might be like to spend four years of my life at each of them. I prided myself on being a good student, earning above-average grades in my school’s rigorous International Baccalaureate program. I was rewarded with acceptance letters from nearly every college I applied to.
But I soon learned that I was naïve to think that only hard work mattered in getting into the college of my dreams. In fact, one part of my background counted more than anything else — my immigration status.
I am an undocumented immigrant. I came with my parents and younger sister from Cordoba, Argentina when I was 5 years old. My dad had visited Florida before we moved here and thought it was a good place to start a business and give his children opportunities we could not have in Argentina. My parents are business owners in Miami. They pay their taxes. We are like any other family in our community.
But when I opened my acceptance letter from my chosen school, Miami Dade Honors College, and saw that tuition would be triple the amount paid by other Florida students, it became clear we weren’t treated like other families.
That is when I learned that Florida prohibits DREAMers like me from receiving in-state tuition at its public universities. My immigration status could be the one thing that stopped me from getting the education I had worked so hard to achieve.
Luckily a year later, MDC eventually waived out-of-state tuition. Now I was able to afford school since the honors college scholarship covered all of the in-state tuition and fees. But I want to stand up against a law that unfairly singles out undocumented students brought to America as children, and makes it harder for us to be successful in what we’re told again and again is a difficult job market, especially for those with less education.
I’m writing this for my sister who is 15 months younger than me and currently applying to college. We know from my experience that she will likely not be able to attend her dream school due to high tuition. She’s accepted that this is how it goes. But she shouldn’t have to.
Floridians — including Gov. Rick Scott and many in the state legislature — recognize that singling out undocumented students is bad for students’ futures and, ultimately, bad for the state’s economy.
A bill in Florida’s Senate, SB 1400, would change the law by prohibiting denial of in-state tuition based on immigration status. This change would mean my sister and those younger than her wouldn’t have to worry as much about affording college. And it would mean hard work pays off for everyone — not just those whose parents had different circumstances.
But one man, Senate President Don Gaetz, is blocking this bill from even getting a vote.
Even though Gaetz has said a bipartisan majority in the Senate supports the bill, and though he says he has an obligation to support the aspirations of Hispanics, he alone is stopping the bill from moving forward. Meanwhile, the futures of the 175,000 Florida students who could benefit hang in the balance.
What’s worse, he has minimized the significance of this issue to a simple political equation. A statement released by his office says that because SB 1400 would apply not only to Hispanics, but to undocumented students from all nations, the bill would not be a solution to the Republican party’s problem attracting Hispanic voters.
It’s offensive to watch the college aspirations of students like my sister and I reduced to a political numbers game. And what’s more, since Florida schools are partially funded through state sales taxes, Gaetz is denying us a benefit we have already paid for.
I have previously written on this issue, but done so anonymously out of concern for revealing my immigration status and that of my family. This time I am speaking out as myself and taking a stand to support this bill.
When we discussed this issue, my mother said to me, “los anonimos no cambian nada” – anonymous people don’t change anything. She’s right. I don’t want to stay quiet anymore. People complain all the time, but you shouldn’t complain if you don’t take a stand and try to change the system.
So now I’m taking a stand and telling Sen. Gaetz to allow a vote on SB 1400. He should move out of the way and let thousands of hardworking young Floridians be able to afford to attend college and achieve our dreams.
Camila Ceballos is a second-year business administration major at Miami Dade Honors College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat http://www.tallahassee.com/article/20140423/OPINION05/304230002/Camila-Ceballos-Gaetz-stands-way-175-000-Floridians-futures.