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Carlos Smith bill to make DACA, refugee students eligible for college financial aid

“Those Dreamers deserve the same opportunities as other students,” Smith said.

College students granted protected immigration status — through either the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or the federal Temporary Protected Status program — could qualify for Florida’s Bright Futures scholarships (and other financial aid) under a bill introduced by Democratic state Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Fentrice Driskell.

Filed Tuesday, House Bill 457 could make the state’s premier merit-based scholarships available to such Florida-residing students who, like other students seeking the scholarships, achieve the minimum necessary requirements for high school grades, college entrance exam scores, and public service commitments.

The bill would prevent college officials from denying their Florida residency requirement based on their immigration status.

It would also apply to a full range of other college financial aid packages that Florida makes available, ranging from need-based Public Student Assistance Grant to Florida Gold Star Vocational Scholars Awards

Smith announced the bill Thursday with a news release that estimated the pool of potential DACA and TPS students in Florida is likely in the thousands, though there’s no information available about how many would meet the various financial aid programs’ other requirements.

Smith is from Orlando and Driskell from Tampa. State Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando, also a Democrat, is a co-sponsor.

Florida has the fourth largest DACA population in the nation, the release said, with approximately 27,000 young people granted DACA status, meaning they arrived in the United States as children and grew up here, but do not have legal immigration status.

The state already allows them to pay in-state tuition, and approximately 18 percent of the DACA students, sometimes referred to by DACA supporters as “Dreamers,” are enrolled in postsecondary education.

Florida also has the third largest population of TPS residents, with approximately 45,000 people who arrived as refugees and were granted protective status, the release noted.

“Florida did the right thing in 2014 by extending in-state tuition to thousands of DACA students who were brought to the U.S. as children and who graduated from Florida public schools,” Smith stated in the release. “Those Dreamers deserve the same opportunities as other students to earn state-based financial aid to reach their educational and career potential. It’s in our state’s best interest to help these students succeed — not create obstacles to their academic achievement.”

The Florida Immigrant Coalition offered the following statement, quoted in Smith’s release: “All students in Florida should be able to afford higher education regardless of their financial status. Our society benefits when we educate and train our newest generations to be the best that they can be, but immigrant families often cannot afford to pay the expensive cost of higher education.”

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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