Saturday, July 26, 2014

New college tuition law will impact only a fraction of undocumented students
Posted on July 27, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on July 27, 2013 at 7:58 p.m.

Some will benefit from a new state law letting certain undocumented immigrants pay in-state tuition at Indiana’s public universities.

Most, though, won’t.

Senate Enrolled Act 207 went into effect July 1, partially reversing a 2011 law, House Enrolled Act 1402. HEA 1402 said all undocumented immigrants must pay the higher non-resident tuition rate at Indiana University system colleges and other public universities, but SEA 207 lets those who were enrolled in college before July 1, 2011, pay the lower in-state rate.

Cynthia Murphy, who works with undocumented immigrant students as a counselor at Indiana University South Bend, said the new law is having an impact. Some students who had been paying the in-state rate at IUSB left school or reduced their hours after HEA 1402 passed. Now they’re returning with the implementation of SEA 207.

“They are definitely trickling in,” she said.

That said, the office of Gov. Mike Pence estimated that just 200 to 300 undocumented students would potentially be impacted by SEA 207 when Pence inked the measure into law last May. And undocumented immigrants who graduated from high school in 2011, 2012 and 2013 are out of luck. They aren’t affected by SEA 207, by and large, and will still have to pay the non-resident rate — as much as three times the in-state rate, according to Murphy — if they want to attend a public college here, per HEA 1402.

That’s why Rosy Meza, an Elkhart immigration attorney, opposed SEA 207 when lawmakers debated it last winter and spring during the 2013 legislative session. The law is helpful to a “small proportion of people,” Meza said, but leaves many more out.

In fact, Murphy has spoken to some recent high school graduates who would have to pay the higher tuition rate, and they’ve indicated they won’t attend IUSB. They’re looking into “more affordable options” — private colleges with scholarships, for instance — or opting to work instead and save up money.

President Obama last year announced a plan allowing some younger undocumented immigrants a means to stay legally and work in the United States, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, or DACA. It raised hopes among some DACA recipients that they’d also be able to pay in-state tuition, Murphy said. They’ve been disappointed on learning that’s not the case.

Murphy, nevertheless, holds out hope. She’d like to see HEA 1402 completely repealed, letting all undocumented immigrants pay in-state tuition if they meet the other requirements, and says it may be a focus of advocates like her in coming state legislative sessions.

Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack.