In 2014, during my presidency at Miami Dade College — the largest degree-granting institution in the U.S. — Sen. Rick Scott, who was then Florida’s Governor, signed into law in-state tuition rates for Florida’s roughly 140,000 (at that time) Dreamers. These are young people brought to the U.S. as undocumented children, only some of whom have been able to access Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows them to stay, work and study in the U.S. legally.
I saw firsthand the tremendous benefits of that move, not only for Dreamers — who’d been paying three to four times the tuition of their citizen peers they’d gone to Florida K-12 schools with — but for the whole state.
Dreamers found their educational goals more accessible, which led, in the past eight years, to a huge bump of young Floridians going into fields like health care, child- and eldercare, education and tech — key sectors if our booming state intends to maintain future growth.
In other words, then-Gov. Scott did not only the right thing but the smart thing.
Now I, and other educational leaders statewide, are asking him to do the same again, just as we’re asking his fellow Sen. Marco Rubio: Stand behind Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Independent, and North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis in finally getting the DREAM Act over the finish line in D.C. in our current lame-duck session.
The bill, in addition to enacting strong new border protections, would lay down a pathway to citizenship for roughly two million Dreamers nationwide whose lives have been up in the air for a decade now, despite their studying hard and taking on the very jobs our country most needs to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
At this moment, the need for a congressional solution for Dreamers is stronger than ever. If the DACA program is struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, as it very likely will be, it will cause untold devastation not only for Dreamers and their families but also for the Florida industries that have come to rely on their hard work. There are about two open jobs for every person out of work. Taking hundreds of thousands out of the labor force will further fuel inflation, exacerbate supply chain challenges and tip the state’s economy into recession.
Florida is in a global contest to attract and retain talent. That’s why providing permanent legal status to Dreamers makes sound economic sense. Our policies must allow us to compete for the workers we need to fuel our economy and retain the young talent that already exists here but lacks the security of permanent legal status.
Dreamers are a critical and integral part of our state’s economy and workforce.
In Florida alone, there are over 40,000 Dreamers pursuing higher education. Over 68,900 Floridians DACA-eligible Dreamers contribute to our economy, start families, buy homes, build businesses and bring their talents to the industry sectors where they’re most needed.
But economics aside, legalizing Dreamers is the morally right thing to do.
Over my five-decade academic career, I met hundreds of undocumented college students. Almost without exception, they were at the top of their class, excelled in sports, arts and other extracurriculars, and were always the first to volunteer to help others. Now, I’m not saying they deserve a pathway to citizenship because they’re exceptional — but because they’re human beings.
For more than a decade now, they, as well as their employers and employees, have been vulnerable to government indecision that has sown anxiety, instability and legal limbo in their lives — and in our state’s workforce.
I understand them all too well.
I was 16 years old and my brother was 12 when our parents put us on a secret flight from Cuba to Miami. I worked two and three jobs — cleaning toilets, picking tomatoes, whatever it took for my brother and me to survive. I also kept the promise I had made to my mother to attend college and went on to earn a Ph.D. in economics.
Eventually, as I noted, I came to lead Miami Dade College — an institution that is a beacon of hope for all.
It is such a beautiful aspect of the U.S. to see each generation of immigrants come here, work and study hard, then become part of the very fabric that makes this country operate and thrive. That’s all Dreamers have wanted for a decade now.
Sens. Scott and Rubio, in the coming days before the holiday break, do the right thing and the smart thing — stand with your colleagues in the Senate in passing legislation that will finally let Dreamers call Florida their forever home — and that will empower Florida, and the nation, to thrive economically and socially in the crucial, globally competitive years ahead.
Dr. Eduardo Padrón is president emeritus of Miami Dade College, where he served for almost a quarter century. He is a member of the national American Business Immigration Coalition.