Immigrants sue MU over in-state tuition

Students with an “unlawful presence” saw a tuition increase this year, after the passing House Bill 3 eliminated their in-state tuition.

Three Missouri students are filing separate suits against MU, St. Louis Community College and the Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City after having their college costs skyrocket this semester, according to an Oct. 13 American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri news release.

Their tuition rates increased from recent rewording of House Bill 3, which prohibits students with an “unlawful presence” from receiving in-state tuition.

“Our Missouri public institutions of higher learning exist to open the doors of opportunity to hard-working students striving to get ahead,” ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman said in the release. “Now, there are extreme financial burdens being put on the backs of students already struggling to achieve their goals of higher education. To punish students who had no say in how they arrived in this country is not only mean-spirited, it is against the law.”

ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert said he believes the colleges are breaking the law by denying the students in-state tuition because the preamble is not a law or statute on its own.

“What’s illegal about what these schools are doing is that the legislature did not pass a law changing the statute that decides whether or not DACA students are entitled to in-state tuition,” Rothert said. “These universities are choosing to follow a modification to the preamble of House Bill 3, which is by no means a piece of legislation in itself.”

The modification to the preamble of HB 3 states that “no funds shall be expended at public institutions of higher education that offer a tuition rate to any student with an unlawful immigration status in the United States that is less than the tuition rate charged to international students.”

The students are living and working in the U.S. under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and are represented by the ACLU, according to the release. One student, who said her mother brought her to the U.S. when she was only three years old to join her father, came for a better life.

“In my hometown, there was a lot of violence and drug trafficking,” she said in the release. “Teens often would get approached to join gangs and drop out of school at an early age.”

Prior to the tuition increase, she was planning on taking nine credit hours at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley with the intention of working a full-time job and advocacy work at the same time, according to the release.

Another of the students in the release said he decided to attend St. Louis Community College instead of a four-year college because of financial considerations.

“I believed that I would be able to save more money this way to keep expanding my education, but after doing the math, I noticed that from what I had already saved I could only afford one semester, maybe two,” he said.

Rothert disagreed with Missouri lawmakers' treatment of the DACA students.

“It is shameful to treat DACA students like outcasts, when they have lived, worked and gone to schools in this country since they were children,” Rothert. “Missouri cannot afford to drive talented students away.”

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