Thursday, October 23, 2014

Undocumented immigrants in Elkhart County cheer tuition bill
Posted on Feb. 26, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Feb. 26, 2013 at 6:02 p.m.

Jose Alvarez is thrilled at the Indiana Senate decision approving a bill that would let some undocumented immigrants pay in-state tuition at Indiana’s public colleges.

Now, bill boosters say, it’s time to lobby for passage in the Indiana House and — further down the road, perhaps — push for change broadening the pool of those paying the lower rate even more.

“This all is a matter of fairness to students who’ve grown up here all their lives,” said Alvarez, an Elkhart County resident and junior at Holy Cross College near South Bend. “They’ve been Hoosiers through and through.”

Senate Bill 207 would let undocumented immigrants who were enrolled in a public college here as of July 1, 2011, pay the lower in-state tuition rate, partially reversing a 2011 measure making all undocumented immigrants pay the higher non-resident rate. The Indiana Senate approved the measure Tuesday, Feb. 26, in a 35-15 vote and now it goes to the Indiana House.

Alvarez, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, and many others in the community have lobbied hard for S.B. 207. Tuesday’s action was met with cheers by them and their advocates, like Gilberto Perez an associate professor of social work at Goshen College who had launched an online petition to bolster the cause.

“With today’s vote, the Indiana Senate has changed their tone toward undocumented youths,” Perez said in an email. “This is encouraging!”

‘STOPGAP’ MEASURE

Indiana lawmakers approved House Enrolled Act 1402 in 2011, making all undocumented immigrants studying at Indiana’s public colleges and universities pay the higher tuition rates applicable to non-residents of the state. The change prompted some impacted students who had lived in Indiana for years, though undocumented, to drop out of college or transfer to lower-cost institutions.

S.B. 207 would partially reverse that, serving essentially as a grandfather clause for those who were already enrolled when HEA 1402 took effect in mid-2011.

“Let’s take a victory. One step at a time,” said Cynthia Murphy, who works with undocumented students as a counselor at Indiana University South Bend.

Still, even at this preliminary state, she described S.B. 207 as a “stopgap” measure, hinting, like Alvarez, at support for something that would cover all undocumented immigrants.

Alvarez said there’s been scuttlebutt of an amendment when S.B. 207 goes to the House of adding students who have received deferred action status to the pool of those who would be impacted. The federal government last year announced creation of the deferred action for childhood arrivals program. That allows eligible undocumented immigrants brought here when they were young to apply for work permits and permission to stay.

Many undocumented immigrants have been here for years, attending public schools in Indiana since grade school. “So why wouldn’t you want a return on your investment and let them contribute to the economy and get advanced degrees?” said Alvarez.

NOT EVERYONE’S CHEERING

Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, served as co-author to S.B. 207 and he spoke on behalf of the measure on the Senate floor during Tuesday’s deliberations. His efforts, he said later on in a phone interview, are an attempt “to show a heart” to those impacted.

He shouldn’t be taken as soft on the immigration issue, Yoder said. Rather, he described impacted students as being “caught in the crosshairs” of the immigration debate — brought here by their parents and oblivious, when they came, to their migratory status.

Some 200 to 500 students would directly benefit from S.B. 207, he suspects.

Murphy praised Yoder’s efforts and the “human face” he has been putting on impacted students. “It feels good to have someone in northern Indiana taking a common-sense approach to the immigration issue as it relates to students,” she said.

Not everyone was brimming with enthusiasm, however.

Bob Schrameyer can understand change letting those who were already enrolled in college when HEA 1402 took effect pay in-state tuition, the same as they had been before. The head of Citizens for Immigration Law Enforcement, an anti-illegal immigrant group in Elkhart County, just worries undocumented immigrants and their advocates will want more.

“I just don’t want them to think this is the start of something new,” said Schrameyer.