Law takes some off the books

A new state law is wreaking havoc on the educational dreams of undocumented immigrant students here, or at least adding new obstacles to their efforts. The law, HEA 1402, mandates that undocumented immigrants pay higher non-resident tuition rates at public colleges and universities in Indiana and its causing some to transfer to cheaper schools or even forego post-secondary education.
Posted on Oct. 12, 2011 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Oct. 12, 2011 at 9:46 a.m.

For a look at the number of undocumented immigrants impacted by HEA 1402, look here.

Yareth had finished her first year at Indiana University South Bend and was readying for the fall 2011 semester when suddenly, everything was thrown into flux.

A new state law took effect July 1 that makes illegal immigrants here pay the much higher, non-resident tuition rates at Indiana’s public colleges and universities, and in Yareth’s case, the change meant she’d have to leave IUSB. No matter that she graduated from an Elkhart County high school and has lived here since she was 11, uprooted from Mexico by her parents. As an undocumented immigrant she’d no longer be eligible for lower resident tuition rates and it seemed her dream of college might have to go by the wayside.

“I was like, what do I do now?” said Yareth, 19.

Her friend, Alejandra, brought to Indiana from Mexico by her parents when she was 9, had finished more than a year of study at IUSB. She was also upset by the new law and, lacking funds to pay non-resident tuition — two to three times greater than the in-state rate — it, too, threw her future plans into doubt.

“For them to do something so low as to take our education away from us? It’s like a slap in the face,” said Alejandra. She graduated from a South Bend high school and, like Yareth, asked that her full name not be used because she, also like Yareth, is undocumented.

Yareth’s father suggested she return to Mexico for college, where tuition is cheaper.

Alejandra, too, mulled that option, but ultimately, both young women — telling their story from a table in the children’s play area of an Elkhart fast-foot restaurant — dismissed it.

“We haven’t lived there since we were little girls. We didn’t know what it was like over there,” said Alejandra, 20.

Moreover, Alejandra saw returning to Mexico as the less noble option. “It was like running away from the problem instead of fighting,” she said.


As Mike Karickhoff sees it, prohibiting illegal immigrants from eligibility for in-state tuition rates is a matter of fairness. He’s the Republican state representative from Kokomo who authored House Enrolled Act 1402, the law approved overwhelmingly last spring setting the new tuition restriction.

“It’s a very simple bill,” Karickhoff said.

The state has limited resources, Karickhoff argues, and the lower in-state tuition rate, subsidized with state funding, should be reserved for legal state residents. “It doesn’t say you can’t attend college, it just says you’re not going to get the benefit of in-state tuition,” he said.

For those undocumented immigrants, like Alejandra and Yareth, who came here to the United States without any say in the matter, brought by their parents, he wonders why they haven’t already fixed their migratory status. But securing legal status is a complicated, drawn-out process, open chiefly to the relatives of U.S. citizens and U.S. legal permanent residents.

If you’ve been here since you were 3, you will have had 15 years before reaching college age to get legal status. By that time, “you should have taken care of the issue, or your parents should have,” Karickhoff maintains.

At the same time, the state or the lawmakers who approved the new tuition legislation shouldn’t bear the ire of the students impacted by the change, in the view of Indiana Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel. He authored Senate Enrolled Act 590, another new state law directed at illegal immigrants that also contains a provision mandating that undocumented students pay non-resident tuition.

“The student should be angry at the parent or whoever broke the law and put them in that situation,” he said during a visit to Goshen in August.

SEA 590 is designed to make it tougher for undocumented immigrants in their day-to-day dealings — the idea being that they’ll eventually leave, self-deport. Aside from the tuition provision, it strips businesses of a portion of any tax credits and tax breaks they get if they’ve hired illegal immigrants. It also mandates use by state and local government and certain government contractors of E-Verify, the federal system meant to help employers ferret out undocumented workers.


That they’re illegal immigrants isn’t something Yareth, Alejandra and Nahum, brought to Elkhart from Honduras by his parents when he was 3, advertise. Nahum — involved in a Latino student group with the others — studies at a private area college that sets its own tuition policies and he isn’t directly impacted by HEA 1402, though he’s critical of it.

Yareth, for instance, never let on about her status to classmates in high school, where she took advance placement courses. “In my mind, I feel like they’re going to shoot me,” she said, recalling her mindset during her high school years.

More to the point, they’ve been here in the United States so long that they associate more strongly with this country. Not Mexico. Not Honduras.

Returning to Honduras is “not an option because this is my home, this is my country. I was raised in American culture,” said Nahum, 20, who asked that his full name not be used. “We’re just as much a part of America as anybody else. This is our home.”

The recent Concord High School graduate doubts his Spanish would be good enough to survive back in Honduras, at least in a college setting. Plus, he doesn’t know anybody there and has no memory of the place.

Alejandra, whose parents told her they were bringing her to the United States just to visit Disneyland when she snuck into the country as a girl, said she’d be happy to visit Mexico. That’s about it, though.

“I feel like this is home for me,” she said.

As such, they — and others they say are in the same situation — do what they can to maintain their college dreams and their hopes for a better future. “We can’t just sit there and rot,” Alejandra said.

Both Yareth and Alejandra now attend Ivy Tech Community College as part-time students, studying dental hygiene and business, respectively. The non-resident rate is much less than IUSB’s non-resident rate and it’s manageable, to a degree.


It can be a tenuous existence.

The new tuition law could discourage some current high schoolers from even considering college, short-circuiting their post-secondary education even before it starts, worries Cynthia Murphy Wardlow, the recruitment and retention counselor at IUSB.

And even if they get a degree, Alejandra, Yareth and Nahum, who’s mulling a career in law, would still face the daunting specter of getting jobs as undocumented immigrants.

The uncertain situation has Alejandra fretting. “It’s hard to plan long term. It’s pretty hard to even think about the long term,” she said.

It’s got Nahum — and many other immigrant rights activists — lobbying for legislation, the federal DREAM Act. The DREAM Act, discussed and debated on and off over the years, would open up a pathway to legal residency for undocumented immigrants brought here as children who get college degrees and meet other requirements.

Yareth, meanwhile, finds some solace in the belief that by pursuing a college education, she’s bettering herself.

“I hope something will change,” Yareth said. “But the knowledge we’re learning — they can’t take that away from us.”

Recommended for You

Back to top ^