ACLU Sues Missouri Schools for Discrimination Based on Immigrant Status

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri has filed suits against the University of Missouri Board of Curators, St. Louis Community College, and the Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City on behalf of students who say they are being charged unfair tuition rates because of their immigration status.

The three students are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to live and work in the U.S. legally, but it does not grant them lawful immigration status. The lawsuit says the students meet the requirements for in-district or in-state tuition eligibility in Missouri but are now being charged as international students, a rate at least double that of in-state tuition.

The hike came after legislators this summer changed language in the preamble of House Bill 3, the Missouri higher education budget bill. The preamble now states that “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.”

However, Tony Rothert, ACLU of Missouri legal director, points out that no statute has in fact been amended — the preamble of a bill is not a legal statute of its own and is unenforceable — and these colleges have broken the law.

Others at the ACLU of Missouri decry the hike as well.

“Our Missouri public institutions of higher learning exist to open the doors of opportunity to hardworking students striving to get ahead,” ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman said in a press release. “Now there are extreme financial burdens being put on the backs of students already struggling to achieve their goals of higher education. To punish students who had no say in how they arrived in this country is not only mean-spirited, it is against the law.”

The recent Missouri legislative session brought further bad news for DACA students in the state. In September, legislators overrode Democratic Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill to change requirements of the state’s A+ Scholarship Program. The program provides scholarships to graduates from one of 533 approved Missouri high schools who maintain a 2.5 GPA, complete 50 service hours, and have at least a 95 percent school attendance rate.

Prior to this fall, students who were “lawfully present” were eligible to receive scholarships, including DACA students, but the program now requires students to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

Gov. Nixon rebuked lawmakers for the override and defended DACA students in a letter to Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander.

“They came to the U.S. through no choice or action of their own,” he wrote. “They arrived as young dependents, in the controlling embrace of an adult who entered the U.S. illegally. They bear no responsibility for this action.”