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Undocumented students in Missouri want to reverse suddenly higher tuition

DACA students delivered petitions to former Gov. Jay Nixon
File photo | Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

More than a dozen college students whose parents illegally entered the United States years ago are asking Gov. Jay Nixon for help with suddenly higher tuition rates.

Lawmakers added language to the preamble of a budget bill stating that students who are "unlawfully in the United States" don't qualify for in-state tuition rates and cannot receive scholarships.

Naomi Carranza and her family are originally from Monterrey, Mexico, but she finished high school in St. Louis.

"I've applied to several universities, including (Southeast Missouri State Univ. and Univ. of Central Missouri), but it would be very difficult for me to continue without any scholarships or in-state tuition," Carranza said. "I've now been accepted to St. Louis Community College, where I will be attending in the fall; however, I'm still being charged international (tuition) rates, so my dream of going to college will probably be cut short."

Carranza and the other students had qualified for in-state tuition rates because they're classified as DACA students or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. But some universities in Missouri say the added preamble language in the higher education budget bill prevents them from charging in-state tuition rates.

The group of students, along with a few supporters, delivered petitions to Nixon's office in the Missouri Capitol Thursday, asking him to formally declare that language to be invalid. It reads:

"...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, and further provided that no scholarship funds shall be expended on behalf of students with an unlawful immigration status in the United States."

When asked by St. Louis Public Radio for a response, press secretary Scott Holste provided a brief written statement:

"The Governor has been quite clear – in order to change the law, you have to pass legislation. The language in the enacting clause of House Bill 3 – or in the enacting clause of any other bill – is not legally binding nor is it enforceable. DACA students have worked hard, played by the rules, and been given a status by the federal government. Denying them the opportunity to receive an affordable college education is not fair, nor is it consistent with current state law."

Earlier this month, Nixon vetoed Senate Bill 224, which would have limited reimbursements from the state's A+ scholarship program to only U.S. citizens and non-citizen permanent residents.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.