Bill would give undocumented immigrants in-state tuition, require them to apply for citizenship

in-state tuition bill (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — State Sen. David Niezgodski, a Democrat from South Bend, estimates 11,000 undocumented immigrant students live in Indiana.

He said hundreds of them want to go to college, and he wants to help them do just that, offering them in-state tuition rates, with some strings attached.

Niezgodski believes roughly 800 undocumented immigrants ages 18-24 in Indiana would like to go to college.

“The vast majority of those, when they graduate high school, why should they be denied the right? That is exactly what we’re doing. We’re denying the right,” said Niezgodski.

We were with him Thursday morning when Niezgodski filed a new bill that would allow in-state tuition for non-citizens living in Indiana.

“They are attending our schools. They are going from kindergarten through 12th grade. My bill does say you only need to graduate, have a GED or attend school for 12 months,” Niezgodski said.

Then he said the students would sign an affidavit stating that as soon as they were able, they would apply for legal citizenship.

“We want that talent pool. We want that to include all immigrants. I was an immigrant,” Niezgodski explained.

“I think the hardest thing I see frequently is people who are brought here as kids and it wasn’t their choice,” Clare Corado, an immigration attorney for the Indiana Immigration Law Group, explained.

“They’ve grown up here and very much feel like Hoosiers. They get to the point where they’re 18 and feel like their future gets cut off. They can still pay cash for their college expenses. They can’t borrow money, they can’t get loans,” Corado continued.

Corado explained how she thinks such a bill would be received in Indiana: “I think the majority of Hoosiers would support this measure.”

Don Bauder, vice president of the Hamilton County Grassroots Conservatives, staunchly disagrees: “Indiana giving tax breaks to Indiana citizens to go to Indiana schools makes sense.”

Bauder said he feels like the current law should stay in place.

“We want them (undocumented immigrants) to apply for citizenship. I don’t necessarily have a problem with them being part of this country. What I have a problem with is them getting in-state tuition and citizenship ahead of someone in Indiana who’s been waiting for 12 years. That doesn’t make sense to me,” Bauder explained. “There should be an organization that would help them become citizens and help them pay for college. That person should not be me, the taxpayer,” Bauder said.

“I don’t look at it as a fight. I look at it as approaching fellow legislators. There are legislators, I believe, on both sides of the political aisle, Democrats and Republicans, that believe and know this is the right thing to do,” Corado said.

State Sen. Dennis Kruse, who chairs the committee that would hear the proposal, had this to say on Thursday: “As chair of the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development, I am in the preliminary stages of reviewing the bills assigned to the committee. I have not had the opportunity to review the bill that was filed today by State Sen. Niezgodski, but, like with all bills, I will give it careful consideration as session gets underway.”