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April 5, 2013

Republicans softening on immigration

Conservatives support immigrant tuition ban rollback.

Indianapolis — Supporters of a national coalition of conservative clergy, law enforcement and business leaders are calling on Indiana lawmakers to roll back the state’s ban on in-state college tuition for the children of immigrants who came here illegally.

The ban was put into place two years ago, as Republicans in the Indiana Statehouse were pushing a massive anti-immigration bill that has since been partially struck down.

“From a legal status, they are aliens,” said Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference. “But they are not aliens to the our human family.”

Tebbe, along with other supporters of a national network known “Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform,” came out in support of Senate Bill 207 during an event Wednesday at the Central Library in Indianapolis.

The legislation, which went to the House Committee on Education Thursday, only applies to undocumented students who were enrolled in college when the ban went into effect in 2011.

Some key Republican supporters of the bill, including House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning, have been working to expand the bill to cover more students.

Tebbe called it a critical piece of legislation that conservatives should support. “This is a moral issue,” he said.

Supporters of the in-state tuition ban argue it doesn’t deny access to college for undocumented students. But opponents like Tebbe argue that it creates a huge obstacle

because it significantly boosts the cost of tuition. The out-of-state tuition rate is up to three times higher than the in-state rate.

Angela Smith Jones, director of public policy for the Greater Indiana Chamber of Commerce, urged opponents of the tuition ban to contact Republican leaders who control the Statehouse.

“Too often, those of us who are on the right side of whatever the issue is, we stay silent,” she said. “Those on the opposite side of this issue have the loudest voice.”

Megan Ritter, director of public policy for the Indiana Farm Bureau, said laws that block access to education “are creating an underclass that doesn’t need to be there.”

Tebbe, Ritter and Smith-Jones were part of panel of speakers who spoke at an event sponsored by the national Bibles, Badges and Business coalition. The event came less than week after a federal judge struck down key provisions in a 2011 Indiana immigration law that gave police sweeping powers to arrest people suspected of being in the country illegally.

Coordinated by the National Immigration Forum, the coalition is made up of mostly conservative law enforcement officers, evangelical Christians and business leaders who support comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for millions who are in the country illegally.

The coalition was formed to provide support for state and federal legislators who are ready to move on immigration reform. For Republicans in particular, being seen as supportive of comprehensive reform that creates a path for citizenship has been seen as a political liability.

Mike Murphy, an Indianapolis Republican who spent 16 years in the Indiana General Assembly as a vehement and vocal opponent of anti-immigration legislation, said that sentiment is changing. He noted that last November’s election was a wake-up call for his party, when GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney won less than 30 percent of the Latino vote.

“What a difference getting whipped in an election makes,” Murphy said.

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

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