Foreign student funding targeted
© St. Petersburg Times
TALLAHASSEE -- A sharply divided House Education Committee Monday narrowly approved a bill to bar state funds to students from countries that support international terrorism.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Dick Kravitz, R-Orange Park, said the state should not spend money to educate students sent by governments that deny their citizens "free will."
His proposal would block the use of state funds to help students from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, North Korea, the Sudan and Cubans ineligible for residency. This year the state spent $308,000 on student aid to 822 students from those countries.
The bill sparked emotional debate and testimony from students and university professors who say the students who come to Florida universities often return to their home countries as ambassadors for the United States.
Hadia Mubarak, the daughter of a Syrian cardiologist from Panama City and niece of a Tampa engineer, said the state should not discriminate against students from certain countries.
"Just because you were born in Syria or Iraq, you are not more likely to be a terrorist," Mubarak told the committee. "Students should not be held accountable for situations beyond their control."
Besides, she noted, most of the World Trade Center terrorists were from Saudi Arabia, which is not on the terror list.
"This bill will not make this a safer place to live," Mubarak added.
Roberto Cancel, another FSU student, said denying help to people "based solely on their country of origin will only propagate prejudices that already exist in those countries."
Max Friedman, a history professor at Florida State University, said foreign students leave with positive experiences and "feel the real America" before going home to become leaders in their own countries. He noted that British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Philippines Vice President Gloria Arroyo are among the foreign leaders who studied in the United States before returning to their own countries.
"Living overseas, people have access to ideas about America, but young people who lived here from countries where anti-American sentiment is very strong can replace that with positive experience," Friedman said. "When we treat them well, it has lasting impressions."
Several Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the bill.
Rep. Heather Fiorentino, R-New Port Richey, asked whether the Iraqi doctor and lawyer who helped save Jessica Lynch in Iraq last week might have been among those educated in America. "To just take the terrorist states and make all their people pay for it is wrong," Fiorentino added.
"It sends the wrong message," argued Rep. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. "These students go back home and lead the revolution for America -- it begins here."
Kravitz said his bill was misunderstood by those who accused him of discrimination.
"I spent two years with a Muslim family," Kravitz explained and insisted that he had no racist feelings. "I ate their food and lived with them. The only thing I regret is I didn't get to date one of their women."
His final comment drew gasps from the audience, but committee Chairwoman Bev Kilmer, R-Quincy, quickly called for a vote on the bill.
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From the Times state desk
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