MIAMI — A group of employers, students and community leaders expressed alarm Thursday over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposal to repeal a law that allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state college and university tuition.

DeSantis, who is expected to run for president, has proposed reversing the 2014 measure as part of a package of legislation cracking down on illegal immigration.

“It never occurred to me in 2014 that we would meet again to discuss in-state tuition,” Eduardo Padrón, the former president of Miami Dade College, said Thursday at a news conference in Miami.

The press conference was organized by the American Business Immigration Coalition, or ABICa bipartisan group that advocates for immigration reform.

“This is a matter of fairness and common sense and it is good for our economy. If it puts obstacles in the way at a time when there’s a great need in fields like engineering, medical, nursing, it’s a misguided and ill-conceived idea,» said Padrón, a former president of the board of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

About 40,000 students enrolled in higher education in Florida are considered undocumented, with about 12,000 eligible for DACA and about 28,000 ineligible, according to the Higher Education Immigration Portal. Each year, about 5,000 Florida students who do not have permanent legal status graduate from high school in the state. DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivalsoffers young immigrants who were brought to the US as children temporary protection from deportation and permission to work legally.

The law making in-state tuition available to Florida students without legal immigration status, also known as Dreamers, was signed by then governor rick scott, a Republican now in the United States Senate. Although he opposed conservatives in the Legislature at the time, he was endorsed by several Republicans, including Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Núñez, then in the Florida House of Representatives.

While some Republicans who backed the law have remained silent on the issue, Scott has criticized DeSantis’ proposal as «unfair.»

recently told him reporters in tampa that «it’s a bill I was proud to sign… It’s a bill I would sign again today.»

Florida is one of 23 states, along with Washington, DC, that allow students without legal permanent status who attended high school in the respective state or in Washington, DC to pay in-state tuition.

In-state tuition and affordability for Dreamers have been backed by moderate Republicans and the business sector, as well as Democrats and immigrant groups who argue that expanding educational opportunities is better for the overall economy.

«Florida would only be doing itself a disservice by eliminating in-state tuition rates for undocumented youth that the state has already invested in for their K-12 years,» said Mike Fernandez, president of MBF Healthcare Partners and co-chair of ABIC. in a press release.

«The goal of making post-secondary education accessible to them, in addition to basic fairness and decency, is to ease their entry into the fields where Florida most desperately needs future workers,» Fernandez said. «Not to mention, the more skilled they get and the more they earn, the more they invest in state and local tax revenue, not to mention the overall economy.»

DeSantis and other Republicans have shifted significantly on immigration since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016 on hardline immigration positions.

“We work very hard to make higher education affordable for Floridians, and we’re proud of that. We have the most affordable higher education in the country,” DeSantis said at a news conference last week. «We’ve had inflation. Costs have changed. If we want to keep the tuition line, then you have to say you have to be a US citizen living in Florida. Why would we subsidize non-US citizens when we want to make sure we want to keep it affordable for our own people?»

When asked for comment on the criticism, DeSantis’s office referred to the governor’s earlier comments. The office did not immediately respond to a request for data or research showing the effect of students paying in-state tuition on increasing tuition costs.

Supporters of the 2014 law say many students who do not have legal status would not attend at all without the price discount.

Murilo Alves, 25, is a medical student who arrived from Brazil when he was 3 years old. He is enrolled in DACA, which allows qualifying youth to work and study in the US. The permit is temporary, has to be renewed every two years, and is being challenged in court by Republicans.

Alves paid in-state tuition to earn his undergraduate degree at Florida Atlantic University, and is now a freshman in medical school at Nova Southeastern University.

Alves credits current Florida law with allowing him to pursue higher education.

«It was very difficult to get here, but I am very grateful. The important thing is that I would not have been able to do any of this if it were not for the in-state tuition, that was crucial to get to where I am right now,» he said.

“I am extremely grateful that we had that benefit. I am now hopeful that by sharing our stories we can prevent this legislation that Governor DeSantis is trying to pass,” Alves said.

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