By Katie Stancombe
A bill that passed a Senate committee Thursday would allow unauthorized immigrant students living in Indiana to pay in-state tuition.
Senate Bill 345, authored by Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, and heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee, allows graduates who went to an Indiana high school for at least three years to attend a state college and pay the same tuition as a typical resident students.
The bill would take effect next fall.
Attorney Kevin Muñoz, a former educator, said the bill is important for the large number of undocumented immigrant students in the state.
“As an educator and a high school advisor, we were taught to treat each family equally,” Muñoz said. “We were instructed that our job was to inspire youth to use their maximum potential. Although they are excellent students, they are strapped for funds and they can’t contribute to the Indiana economy like everyone else.”
Muñoz said the key reason why he supports this bill is because it “promotes equality” and that the “spirit of Indiana is to promote education.”
Guadalupe Pimentel, an Ivy Tech Community College student and leader of the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance, shared her personal story about why the bill would benefit other individuals in situations like hers.
After moving to Indiana at the age of 6, Pimentel learned English and became fluent by the third grade. She graduated from Pike High School in 2010 and, due to difficulties paying for school, enrolled at Ivy Tech. She is expected to graduate in May 2017.
“I was excited, but at the same time furious because it will take me seven years to finish my undergrad” degree, Pimentel said. “Not because I was lazy, not because I was incapable of finishing or going to class. It makes me sad because I am as capable as other student.
“I speak English, I go to class, but due to circumstances that were out of my control, it has taken me seven years.”
Indiana University School of Social Work faculty member Lindsay Littrell spoke in favor of the bill, saying that it has been a pleasure getting to know the “young undocumented leaders” in her community.
“I have learned so much from them. They think more, they (know) their presence in the classroom is meaningful, it’s needed. It enriches every person’s education in higher education,” Littrell said. “The work that they’re doing in the community benefits all of us.”
Littrell challenged the committee to consider that the benefits were not just for those students but “for all of us.”
Despite supporting the bill, Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, had some concerns with the lack of acknowledgment from the federal government.
“It troubles me that though Congress and the president have ignored the opportunity – all the discussion has been about illegal immigration and none of it has been about legal immigration,” Hershman said. “Making it easier for people to come to this country and become citizens.”
The committee amended the bill to only make it effective for the next two years. Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said the bill will need to be “discussed again” before extending it further.
The bill passed the committee 8-4 and now moves to the full Senate for consideration.
Katie Stancombe is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College students.