Government & Politics

DACA students spark lawsuit against area colleges over high tuition

The University of Missouri in Columbia
The University of Missouri in Columbia

The University of Missouri and Metropolitan Community College-Kansas City are being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri on behalf of students claiming the schools illegally inflated their tuition rates.

St. Louis Community College is also being sued.

All three students are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, created by President Barack Obama in 2012. DACA offers deferred action for certain undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children. While the program puts these students in the country under a legal exception, the students do not have lawful immigration status.

This summer, Missouri lawmakers changed language in the preamble of the state higher education budget bill. The change said schools getting state money must charge students with “unlawful immigration status” the tuition rate that international students pay. That rate is often more than double the rate paid by students living in the state.

The language also bars the schools from giving state-funded scholarships to DACA students.

DACA students already enrolled in Missouri schools learned about the language change weeks before classes were to start.

At the time of the language change, Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates estimated that more than 1,200 individuals with DACA credentials live in Missouri but said not all of them are college students.

“Our Missouri public institutions of higher learning exist to open the doors of opportunity to hardworking 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,” Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, said 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.”

The University of Missouri in Columbia has reported having two DACA students. MU spokesman Christian Basi said his school was not sure if the suit came from one of their students, “and we do not normally comment on pending litigation.”

Last year, the University of Missouri-Kansas City reported having 34 DACA students. Officials at UMKC could not be reached for comment.

MCC-KC has not reported the number of DACA students enrolled at its institution.

“As a practice, MCC does not comment on pending legal matters,” a college spokeswoman said.

The lawsuits were filed in Columbia, Kansas City and St. Louis.

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc