Immigration reform? Not in Indiana

Sen. Earline Rogers addresses "dreamers" during a demonstration at the statehouse. Photo Credit: Facebook.com/Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance

It’s called the “Dream Act.”

Senate Bill 345 would have allowed state colleges and universities to offer in-state resident tuition rates to qualified undocumented immigrants. Currently, Indiana is one of only three states where it is against the law for undocumented immigrants to receive in-state resident tuition rates.

It’s called the “Dream Act” after the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) that was proposed as federal legislation in 2001. The bill, first introduced by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-IL, and Orrin Hatch, R-UT, was designed to carve a path to citizenship for undocumented children raised in America (often referred to as “dreamers”). The legislation would give them credit for good moral standing, positive performance in school and success in college or the armed services. The DREAM Act has been re-introduced several times but has never been approved by Congress. However since that time, many states have passed their own “Dream Acts,” mostly addressing issues of in-state tuition rates and financial aid opportunities for state colleges and universities.

Unfortunately, for this year in Indiana, it looks like the dream may be over.

SB 345’s author, Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, never called the bill for a vote in second reading for eh full Senate to consider, despite the measure passing the Appropriations Committee. She was trying to make sure the 26 votes needed for the measure to pass were all there. “I think one of the worse things that you can do is to ask for a vote when you don’t have the votes,” explained Rogers. “People vote no, and then when [the same bill] comes back the next year, even if they’ve gotten more information, they just hate to go through the trouble of trying to come up with reasons as to why they changed their votes.”

The bill had some bipartisan support. Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, was added as a co-author while the bill was in committee. Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, was added as a co-author after the bill passed out of committee. All three senators worked hard to try and convince their colleagues the bill was something Indiana needed to pass. Members of the Latino caucus also made phone calls to senators to urge them to support the measure. However, the votes weren’t there, so the bill was never called.

In 2013 Rogers submitted the legislation and it received enough support to make it all the way out of the full Senate only to die in the House. Rogers co-authored a similar bill in 2014 with Kenley, Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, and Sen. James Arnold, D-LaPorte, but it never made it out of the Senate Appropriations Committee. This year it got that far only to stop before a vote by the full Senate. Rogers says that with each year comes a new group of senators — so the education on the bill starts at the beginning for some. This year was no different with a few new Republican senators sitting in the chamber.

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Was there a particular source of hesitation this year?

According to Rogers there was and it came in the form of the controversy and partisan divide related to President Obama’s executive order on immigration.

“In fact I think there was one senator that basically said that the solution is in Washington,” said Rogers. “And that the persons who were pushing for this were persons that are in the wrong house. They need to be on Capitol Hill as opposed to the statehouse.”

Indiana is one of 26 states involved in a lawsuit challenging the president’s order. The lawsuit contends that the president overstepped his constitutional authority when he issued the action. The suit was filed in Texas. On Feb. 16, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownville, TX ruled in favor of the states, announcing the Obama administration “did not comply with the Administrative Procedure Act.” The ruling came with an injunction that halted the plans of millions of young people waiting to apply for the president’s expansion of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the millions of parents eager to apply for his other Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).

Deferred action allows a non-U.S. citizen to remain in the country temporarily. Although DAPA would be new under President Obama’s action, DACA has been around for a long time. Although the specific rules for DAPA have yet to be announced, the benefits and conditions are assumed to be the same in many instances. With deferred action, an immigrant can get a work permit, a Social Security number and the promise they will not be deported if they live within the law for as long as they have their deferred action status. And for many, that’s enough to keep their “American Dream” alive.

One of many voices

Henry, 17, is an undocumented immigrant who is still hoping a higher court will overturn Judge Hanen’s injunction and allow DACA to go forward as planned. As a senior in high school, he is also hopeful SB 345 will somehow find new life as an amendment to another bill working its way through the Indiana General Assembly.

Henry came to the U.S. from Mexico with his father at age 10, just a few days before his 11th birthday. However, he was just a few months too late to qualify for DACA at that time.

“When I came here, I had no idea I was coming illegally,” said Henry in a telephone interview. “I was coming for the needs of my family after my mother and my brother passed away.”

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Henry said once here, however, he knew things were different when he couldn’t participate in certain programs or activities because he didn’t have a Social Security number. It was really “in-his-face” when he got older and couldn’t apply for a driver’s license or take the type of jobs he wanted. It also affected his attitude toward school.

“At the beginning of high school I didn’t push [myself] because I didn’t think I would be able to go to college,” said Henry. “I thought to myself, ‘It’s too complicated to work around it, I can’t do anything about it.’ I had no motivation. I didn’t reach my potential.”

Eventually Henry began to see that education would be his best way out of his situation. Then when Obama announced an expansion to DACA, Henry had even more hope for a brighter future. Now a senior in high school, Henry has a 3.0 GPA and hopes to graduate this spring with a 3.2. He would like to maybe attend IUPUI to study engineering, but without SB 345, Henry is looking at very costly tuition. And without DACA, his ability to work and save money to pay for college is severely limited. Still, Henry has hope.

“I do hope there will be changes in our system,” said Henry. (I like to think he said “our” because despite the lack of paperwork, he sees himself as a Mexican-American.) “Hopefully I’ll be able to take advantage of things. I want to be ready so I can take advantage of that opportunity when it comes time to take it.”

Keeping the Dream Alive

There is still a chance, albeit a very small one, that the Dream Act in Indiana could find a pulse in the Indiana General Assembly. This week begins the second half of the legislative session where each chamber begins to hear bills that just passed in the opposite chamber. The Dream Act, in theory could be added to a bill still in play as an amendment. Theoretically, it could happen. In reality, that scenario is more than doubtful. Sen. Rogers says the Republican supermajority in power is more than just a stumbling block.

“This is my 33rd year [in the Indiana State Senate] and I have just never seen people so unwilling to listen or negotiate,” said Rogers. “They come here with certain opinions and with lines drawn and they get here and it’s almost impossible to move them from their positions.”

It’s that same partisan divide that is preventing Congress from making any progress on immigration reform that led President Obama to issuing the executive actions in the first place.

For Rogers, it is a partisan divide that is not easy to maneuver.

“I’m hopeful that what we come out of the session with this year, that the people of Indiana will be better off as a result, but I’ve got my doubts.”

In the meantime, the dreamers, like Henry, continue to dream.

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