A bill is being considered in the state legislature that would ban all financial aid to students from "terrorist" countries.
This would mean the 450 students from Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, North Korea, Syria and Lybia studying in Florida would lose their benefits from the state.
Fla. Rep. Dick Kravitz, a Republican who sponsored the bill in the Florida House of Representatives, said the bill represents the will of the people of Florida.
"A lot of people feel we shouldn't spend money on nonresident aliens from countries that aid or abet terrorism," Kravitz said. "We shouldn't argue against terrorist countries and at the same time provide economic assistance."
But Larry Spalding, an American Civil Liberties Union lobbyist, is critical of the bill because he said it is only meant as a political statement.
"This is for political decisions," Spalding said. "Everybody wants to be able to say they were tough on crime and terrorism. This is a feel good, easy bill."
Spalding said the bill does not prevent potential terrorists from coming with student visas, it does not save any money because most of these foreign students bring revenue to the state and it sends a message of hate.
Spalding said the state should send a message of acceptance to these students so they can promote better images of America when they return home.
But Kravitz said a different approach should be used with oppressive regimes.
"These seven countries are run by military dictatorships, political dictatorships or by a couple of thugs in some cases," Kravitz said. "They will not let students be free to speak when they return."
Kravitz said the solution to ending terrorism is taking a hard-line approach and forcing students to go back to their home governments and change them.
"I believe there's a connection between the student and the government in these countries," Kravitz said, adding that the bill helps make this connection more palpable. "It's a message that we are the most generous country in the world, but we're not going to be slapped in the face," he said.
Spalding said the constitutionality of the bill is under severe scrutiny, and it probably will not pass because it discriminates against people's nationality.
Spalding said if the bill becomes law it could set a dangerous precedent, and other state governments might mimic the bill and hurt even more students. "Most legislators are not original thinkers," Spalding said. "They see something pass in another state and think about trying it."
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