Bar to foreign student aid killed
© St. Petersburg Times
TALLAHASSEE -- A controversial bill that would have denied state financial aid to students from countries that support terrorism was killed Monday by the House Judiciary Committee.
By a vote of 8-6, the committee rejected a bill that drew emotional testimony from students who came to America to study and to live.
Rep. Dick Kravitz, R-Orange Park, sponsored the bill (HB 31), saying most students who come here from Iran, Iraq, Syria and four other countries suspected of fostering terrorism come with the blessings of oppressive regimes and often have close ties to those in power.
But Hadia Mubarak, a Florida State University student who is the daughter of a Syrian doctor, chastised legislators for assuming that a student would automatically share the beliefs of a repressive leader.
"It undermines their integrity and intelligence to say they can't think freely," Mubarak said. "Arab people don't have a clear sense of who Americans are. We can't convince them by bombing them. We need to educate them in institutions of higher learning so they become American ambassadors."
Mubarak noted that the bill would hurt people like University of South Florida student Abdullah Hatahet, a Syrian whose father has been in jail in his home country for more than 20 years for opposing the ruling regime.
"He will be applying for a master's program and would be affected by this," she added.
FSU officials noted that many of the foreign students who get financial aid are graduate students who receive a stipend or tuition waiver while they assist teachers in complex subjects.
Several committee members, themselves the sons and daughters of immigrants, also opposed the bill. Others questioned its constitutionality.
"There is no better way to export democracy than having their students come to this country," said Rep. Gus Barreiro, R-Miami Beach, recalling college days with students from Iran when Americans were being held hostage.
Florida provides financial aid to 822 students at a total cost of about $310,000. Several committee members suggested that the state consider banning scholarships for all foreigners because it's in dire financial straits.
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire