Editor’s note: The student in this story – Victoria – asked that her last name be withheld due to her status as an undocumented immigrant.
Victoria remembers the day she got the worst news of her life.
Her cousin was in town, and her parents had been acting strange the whole day, she said. Her parents had learned that Indiana had just passed a law prohibiting in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants, but they wanted to make sure the news was true before telling their daughter. After Victoria and her cousin left the house, her father found an article online confirming the news. He printed it and gave it to Victoria when she came home.
“I was inconsolable for a week,” she said. “I’m not asking for the moon; I’m just asking for an education.”
Victoria is a 22-year-old, straight-A student who has lived in Indiana since her family came here from Mexico 11 years ago. Like many other undocumented immigrants her age, she now is stuck in limbo with no clear path to citizenship and no real connection to the country where she was born. She struggles to understand how she could grow up in a close-knit community on the outskirts of Bloomington – getting good grades, playing in the marching band, going to prom – yet as an adult, be treated as an outsider.
“I thought I was just like any other kid as I grew up,” she said. “I knew I was from a different country, but I didn’t realize I was different until I graduated from high school.”
Costs and consequences
Victoria was working toward a degree in International Studies at Indiana University. She had managed to pay her own in-state tuition and had about a year and a half left to go before graduation. But now that she’s no longer eligible for in-state tuition, she’s trying to figure out what to do.
For the 2011-2012 school year, the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition and fees for full-time students is
about $20,000. And with no advance warning of the change in Indiana’s law, Victoria
did not have time to find and apply for scholarships before the start of the fall semester. She’s trying now to find scholarships, but she worries that too few dollars exist for students like her. “I almost wonder if I should just give up and let someone else have it,” she said of potential scholarships.
Until Public Law 209 cut off in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants in Indiana, universities were free to develop their own policies about residency requirements. Mark Land, associate vice president of university communications for IU, said citizenship was never a requirement to attend IU.
“If they went to high school here and had a residence here, we didn’t ask for proof that you were a citizen,” he said. “There wasn’t any policy as far as we were concerned. We never had any reason to ask this question.”
The fiscal impact statement accompanying House Bill 1402, the legislation that resulted in PL 209, stated: “Universities could experience an increase in tuition fee revenue by requiring unlawfully present aliens to pay nonresident tuition.” At IU, the law’s effect on tuition revenue is negligible, Land said.
Before the 2011 fall semester began, students were required to fill out an online affidavit which asked whether they were lawfully present in this country. Of IU’s 110,000 students statewide, 146 said they were undocumented immigrants; of that number, 90 students enrolled in fall classes, but Land said he did not know how many classes those students were taking.
How school officials can be sure students are telling the truth is a question Land said officials have been asked.
“Our answer has been, it’s an electronic affidavit … but we’re not running down these kids. We’re not going to run down 110,000 kids and ask them to show proof. And we don’t have to,” he said.
The majority of undocumented IU students were at the Indianapolis and South Bend campuses, which tend to attract students who are “non-traditional.”
“Not in all cases, but they tend to be older students, they’re putting themselves through school, they’re working full-time,” Land said of the students outside Bloomington. “My guess is that you’re going to find a lot of these kids are part-time.”
Eric Otto, director of admissions for the University of Southern Indiana, said that the school had – and still has – four undocumented immigrant students. He said that churches in the Evansville area had pitched in to help the students pay their increased tuitions.
“I think most of us in higher education were a bit surprised,” Otto said of PL 209. “We looked into: Can we grandfather these students in?”
He said about five or six other students – most of whom had already been admitted to USI for the fall term – decided not to attend and to enroll elsewhere due to the jump in tuition costs. Victoria’s younger sister chose a similar path, attending Ivy Tech due to its lower out-of-state tuition costs.
Barriers to citizenship
Victoria’s search for solutions led her to Lewis & Kappes immigration attorney Angela Adams. But due to a complex mix of seemingly counterproductive federal laws, Adams is powerless to help Victoria get the papers she needs to qualify for in-state tuition.
Victoria’s mother married an American citizen, who adopted Victoria and her sister. Her mother is in the process of becoming a lawful permanent resident, and three years after that happens, she will be eligible to become a U.S. citizen.
Because Victoria was 18 years old before the marriage and adoption occurred, under federal law, her only option for obtaining documentation is for her mother to apply for a “family-sponsored preference” visa. As the adult unmarried daughter of a permanent resident, she would fall under the F2B category for family-sponsored preference visas. According to the U.S. State Department’s Visa Bulletin for December 2011, processing of F2B visas is 19 years behind schedule for applicants of Mexican origin. If everything went according to plan, Victoria would be over 40 years old before she could qualify for in-state tuition in Indiana.
“This is a quota system … it’s very outdated,” Adams said. “The way that these numbers are allocated, they’re given an equal amount, per-country limit,” Adams said.
Across all family-sponsored visa categories, the countries of origin with the most significant backlogs are Mexico, India, mainland China and the Philippines. In visa category F4 – which U.S. citizens may file on behalf of their siblings – the most recent application processed for a person born in the Philippines is dated Sept. 8, 1988.
Finding a middle ground
Adams said it’s frustrating to see Victoria’s family trying so hard to follow proper channels and getting no results.
“The way that the law is worded, it says if you’re undocumented, you can’t get in-state tuition,” she said. “There are no exceptions – no exceptions. I think we should have exceptions written into that law, and I would like to see some at some point.” Adams said 12 states give in-state tuition if a person has been in the state for a designated period of time and graduated from a state high school.
Adams believes that immigration reform has focused too heavily on enforcement.
“Enforcement is a piece of the puzzle, but we can’t solve this problem with enforcement alone,” she said. If the United States tailored its approach to immigration, she said it could identify ways to bolster its economy and to use the potential of students who have already lived here most of their lives and want to contribute to society.
“Some people think it’s right to punish the kids for the sins of their parents. Kids weren’t involved in the decision. A lot of kids have no clue that they’re undocumented until they get in high school, and their high school counselors start talking about college,” Adams said.
Asked what she would like people to know about her predicament, Victoria started to speak, then paused for a moment to regain her composure. “I guess the main thing is, a lot of people are going to blame our parents,” she said. “I know for a fact that I’m not the first in my situation … but I don’t blame my parents. I thank them. Because if we had stayed in Mexico, I would not have had an opportunity to go to college. So moving here is actually a great thing.”
Victoria doesn’t believe the public understands the human cost of laws designed to crack down on undocumented immigrants.
“It does affect lives, more than people know,” she said.•