Immigration Reform, One Item at a Time

On Thursday, the Florida Legislature passed an immigration bill that had been under debate for several years. Under the new law, which Republican Governor Rick Scott said he will sign, students who are here illegally will be able to get in-state tuition rates for college.

If a student was brought to this country illegally as a child, and had attended a Florida school for at least three years prior to graduation, s/he will now have to pay a tuition rate which is one-quarter of that paid by out-of-state students, and of what undocumented students had previously been paying. In Florida, that amounts to students saving an average of $22,700 annually.

Former Florida governor and presidential contender Jeb Bush took the opportunity to slam the federal government for its inaction on this front. In a statement, Bush said that “Florida succeeded in doing what the federal government has failed to do — take real steps to address our nation’s serious immigration challenges.”

Mr. Bush is correct. While 20 states have now passed some sort of college tuition-assistance legislation to help those who are here illegally through no fault of their own, the federal government has done nothing. Passing a bill in the Democrat-controlled Senate that has no chance of passage in the GOP-dominated House does nothing to help those who struggle daily with the realities of being undocumented.

We are a nation of immigrants. It is unconscionable that we continue to neglect this newest generation of American immigrants. While Republicans and Democrats engage in politically motivated bickering and arguments, the problems these immigrants face remain unaddressed.

These states are doing what the federal government ought to be doing — finding areas where they can help solve problems for their residents, and solving them. A sweeping immigration reform bill is not the only solution. Separating out the segments of a comprehensive bill in which common ground can be found and passing them as independent laws through both houses of Congress is what our senators and representatives should be doing. They are in Washington to fix problems, not to ignore issues until they get everything on their wish list.