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April 10, 2013

In-state tuition for undocumented students approved

INDIANAPOLIS — The debate over in-state college tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants is headed for the Indiana House.

On Tuesday, the House Education Committee voted 8-4 for a bill that would partially roll back a 2011 law that bans undocumented students who grew up in Indiana from accessing the lower in-state tuition rate at the state’s public universities. The 2011 law, that requires they pay the more expensive out-of-state rate, led to hundreds of students dropping out.

The version of Senate Bill 207 that passed out of the House committee only covers the students who were enrolled in college when the ban went into effect two years ago.

But Republican bill backers want to expand the  legislation’s language to cover more students. With support from Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, they plan to introduce an amendment to do so when the bill comes up for debate in the full House.

“It really comes down to this: Every child in our state needs the opportunity to have an education,” said state Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, a Republican from Syracuse and the House sponsor of Senate Bill 207.

House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning, an Indianapolis Republican, wanted to amend the bill in committee to expand it to cover children who met the new federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. That policy stops the deportation of immigrant children who were brought to the U.S. by their parents illegally.

But he decided to pull the amendment back after meeting resistance from some other Republicans on the committee and take the debate to the House floor instead. Behning said he has the support of Bosma, who’s been out of the Statehouse recovering from knee surgery.

Behning risks some political pushback for doing so. Opponents of the bill, including a group called IFIRE (Indiana Federation for Immigration Reform & Enforcement) argue that students who aren’t U.S. citizens have no right to the lower tuition rates.

“I’ve had some constituents writing me to say they don’t want me to move forward on this,” Behning said. “But to me, morally it’s the right thing to do.”

Rep. Jim Lucas, a Republican from Seymour voted against the bill in committee. He said he opposed it because it let the federal government continue to evade dealing with immigration issues.

State Sen. Jean Leising, a Republican from Oldenburg who co-authored Senate Bill 207, said she too is unhappy with the federal government’s lack of action on immigration issues. But she said the in-state tuition is overly punitive.

“These kids were brought here by their parents, they had no choice but to come here,” Leising said. “The federal government is not going to deport them, so I think we need to give them every opportunity to succeed.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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