The ACLU has filed lawsuits for three college students who say they were charged nonresident tuition rates because of their immigration status.
The lawsuits, filed in Boone, St. Louis, and Jackson counties say St. Louis Community college, Metro Community College of Kansas City, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City charged higher tuition rates to three students who live in the U.S. under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. That lets people who entered the U.S. illegally as children stay in the country if they meet certain requirements, but DACA does not give them lawful immigration status.
The legislature added language to the preamble of the higher education budget bill saying schools who accept state money must charge students with, “unlawful immigration status,” the rate paid by international students.
ACLU Missouri legal director Tony Rothert says that language is unenforceable because it is in the preamble of the bill.
“However most colleges and universities in the state are treating that preamble language as if it is the law, and have hiked up tuition rates for these students,” said Rothert. “The law, as enacted, is that students who have DACA status are to be considered residents when it comes to determining whether or not they pay in-state tuition.”
The author of that language, representative Scott Fitzpatrick, says it doesn’t stop colleges from offering those students lower tuition.
“It just states specifically for the purpose of the funds that are included in House Bill 3 that they don’t have access to those funds,” said Fitzpatrick of colleges that do charge students with, “unlawful immigration status,” less than international student tuition. “If a higher education institution choses to forgo [state] funds there’s no statute affirmatively or against them being able to offer any other tuition rate they want.”
The lawsuits say the students met all requirements for in-district or in-state tuition but were charged nonresident rates generally twice as great, or more. The suits ask the courts to order the colleges to charge those students resident tuition rates.