Floridians remain conflicted on immigration; oppose eligibility for federal education grants
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Floridians support the children of people who illegally entered the U.S. attending public colleges in their home state at lower, in-state tuition rates.
But that support fades fast when asked whether those students should be eligible for federal education grants, according to a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ survey of Floridians’ attitudes about immigration.
The survey of 503 Florida residents found that 43 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with allowing children of those who entered the U.S. illegally to pay in-state tuition for college, but just 29 percent supported them being eligible for federal grants to help pay for college. And only 35 percent felt those students should be able to compete for public university scholarships.
The UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education, or PIE Center, led the study.
“It’s interesting … the results show Florida residents are interested in children of undocumented immigrants being treated fairly, but not sure they want their children to have to compete with them for grants and scholarships,” said Alexa Lamm, the PIE Center’s associate director. “I wouldn’t say the results were unexpected, but it’s telling.”
Florida legislators this spring approved a bill allowing the children of immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally to pay in-state tuition. Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign the bill.
Much like last year’s immigration survey, Florida residents’ awareness of the E-Verify system remains low, with only 28 percent of respondents able to identify the system now being used by all agencies under the governor’s direction, including the state’s public universities. E-Verify is used to see if potential employees are authorized to work in the United States.
Georgia began requiring businesses to use E-Verify in 2011, and a University of Georgia study later estimated some $75 million in losses to agricultural producers due to shortages in harvesting help. A similar economic loss is projected for Florida should E-Verify use be required of businesses.
After being told of some of the potential challenges E-Verify could pose for the agricultural sector, 62 percent of respondents said Florida should still require agricultural producers to use the system.
The PIE Center’s survey of Floridians’ perceptions on immigration was conducted online in March, said Lamm, an assistant professor in agricultural education and communication.
As in last year’s survey, respondents assigned importance to a number of topics, and immigration came in ninth on a list of 10. While 89 percent of respondents rated the economy as highly or extremely important, only 62 percent felt as strongly about immigration.
Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said the results suggest to him that UF/IFAS may need to do more to help raise awareness about immigration issues and how they can affect the state’s agricultural sector and the economy.
“Immigration is a key issue, but it’s especially so in Florida because of its close ties to agriculture,” he said. “And if we’re going to have effective immigration policies, it’s imperative that our state’s residents are well informed on the issue.”
The PIE Center will host a free webinar on public perceptions and knowledge gaps about immigration at 2 p.m. May 21. Register at www.piecenter.com/easy-as-pie/. The survey findings are available at www.piecenter.com/immigration.