Bill prohibiting sanctuary campuses moves to Indiana House

A bill meant to require Indiana colleges and universities to comply with federal immigration investigations has passed the Senate, though concerns remain about the policy’s implication on Indiana campuses.

Through Senate Bill 423, Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, and Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, the two main authors, said they are seeking to fill a gap in existing Indiana law, which prohibits “governmental entities” from adopting sanctuary city policies and instead requires them to comply with federal immigration investigations. That law did not include state-supported universities on its list of governmental entities, Young said, so the intent of SB423 is to bring those schools into the same compliance.

Originally, SB423 included Ball State, Indiana, Indiana State, Purdue and Vincennes universities, the University of Southern Indiana and Ivy Tech Community College, though it was later amended to also include private schools that receive state or federal funds. The bill was plagued by concerns from both residents and lawmakers from committee to the Senate floor, and now that it has passed its first chamber, immigration attorneys are expressing concern over what SB423 might mean for undocumented students.

From his perspective, Steve Tuchman, a director at Lewis & Kappes whose practice focuses primarily on immigration law, said SB423 is an unnecessary example of state legislative overreach. The federal government has its own policies in place to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security and other similar organizations can obtain the information they need to proceed with immigration investigations, so Tuchman said it “boggles his mind” that the state of Indiana would try to do the federal government’s job on its own terms.

“They (the federal government) don’t need, nor is the state of Indiana permitted to, do it for them,” Tuchman said.

Both he and Geoff Heeren, director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the Valparaiso School of Law, said they were particularly struck by the extension of the policy to also include private institutions receiving federal funds. “Federal funding” is not defined in the bill, Heeren said, though it could possibly include something as ubiquitous as federal financial aid, which could implicate nearly every private institution in the state.

Although he has not heard students on Valparaiso’s campus voice concerns specifically about the bill, Heeren said he has heard repeated concerns about whether changes in the national immigration landscape could threaten their undocumented classmates’ educations.

“I think universities hold a unique place in society, and at places of higher education, particularly at the age of undergraduate students, in order to learn they need to be in a safe learning environment,” Heeren said. “Having immigration agents patrolling campuses is not consistent with a safe learning environment.”

Tuchman voiced a similar sentiment, and questioned whether Indiana wants to open its post-secondary campuses up to “raids” searching for undocumented students, especially if those students have been invited to enroll in the school.

Young faced similar arguments during hearings on SB423, but noted that his bill carves out exceptions for students allowed to remain in the United States through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, federal legislation, and for undocumented students permitted to pay in-state tuition at Indiana universities.

Heeren, however, said he was not comforted by those exceptions and instead noted that immigration law, including DACA, is complex. For example, some undocumented students can have quasi-status or could have pending applications for asylum or another type of visa. University officials should not be put in the position of having to assess those various immigration statuses, he said.

Tuchman further noted a large portion, if not the majority, of undocumented students are DACA students, so in that regard SB423 is once again an example of state overreach into an existing federal policy.

But throughout hearings in the Senate at both the committee and floor level, Young repeated that the bill was about not giving state governmental entities, colleges and universities included, the freedom to decide which laws they do or do not want to follow.

The bill passed the Senate 35-15 and is now headed to the House floor.

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