JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Immigrant students on Tuesday sued three Missouri public colleges for charging them higher tuition, a change prompted by a new state law aimed at blocking students without lawful immigration status from paying less than international students.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed the suits in several circuit courts against the University of Missouri Board of Curators, the Metropolitan Community College of Kansas City and St. Louis Community College on behalf of three students, who were identified as either "John Doe" or "Jane Doe" in the lawsuits.
The lawsuits claim the students were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and now are lawfully present through the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, although that doesn't grant them legal status. Some have lived in Missouri for years, or previously qualified for resident tuition rates.
Instead of receiving the same lower tuition rates as other students who live in the state or nearby a college, they had to pay more than twice the cost of tuition they had expected, the lawsuits allege.
For example, a student previously enrolled at the Metropolitan Community College of Kansas City said she dropped out in the fall semester because her tuition was raised from $95 per credit hour to the out-of-state rate of $229 an hour.
"Our Missouri public institutions of higher learning exist to open the doors of opportunity to hard-working students striving to get ahead. Now, there are extreme financial burdens being put on the backs of students already struggling to achieve their goals of higher education," said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, in a statement. "To punish students who had no say in how they arrived in this country is not only mean-spirited, it is against the law."
At issue is a law signed in May that guides state spending on public colleges and universities. An introduction to the legislation includes a provision that colleges receiving state money must charge students without a lawful immigration status nothing less than the international rate of tuition.
The students argue the provision in the budget legislation is not binding because of a technicality: the restriction on immigrant tuition rates is in the introduction, not the body of the measure.
Metropolitan Community College spokeswoman Christina Medina declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, but said in a statement that the college "is committed to serving students and our community within the confines of the regulatory parameters provided by state and federal requirements."
A spokesman for the University of Missouri System declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
St. Louis Community College spokesman Dan Kimack declined to comment on the lawsuit, but says the college follows state law and the intent of the law.
The college "is not making policy," Kimack said. "We are following the rules and regulations put forth by our lawmakers."
Kimack said the college also has set aside nearly $250,000 to help offset the cost of increased tuition for students impacted by the change.