April 12, 2013

Grassroots coalition promotes immigration reform in Indiana

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

A grassroots alliance of faith groups, law enforcement and business leaders have reached a consensus supporting immigration reform including a repeal of the resident tuition rate ban for undocumented college students.

The local and national campaign, called “Bibles, Badges, and Business,” a project of the National Immigration Network, held an April 3 forum at the Marion County Central Library in Indianapolis.

Participants who came to the forum heard from distinguished panelists from the business, faith and agricultural communities who discussed the effects that a broken immigration system has on the immigrant community at large and Indiana’s future economy.

Mike Murphy, a former Indiana state representative who moderated the panel discussion, described Indiana’s recent legislative history impacting the undocumented immigrants as “un-Hoosierish.” Murphy, a Republican, vehemently opposed anti-immigration legislation during his 12-year tenure as a member of the Indiana General Assembly.

Indiana’s attorney general Greg Zoeller encouraged panelists and participants to continue working on immigration reform saying, “Keep up your efforts and make sure the voices of Hoosiers are heard in Washington.”

Zoeller has been a voice for reasonable immigration reform since signing on to the Indiana compact in 2010 during a press conference at the Statehouse with then Indianapolis Archbishop Daniel Buechlein and other members of the faith, human services and business communities.

Glenn Tebbe, Indiana Catholic Conference executive director, a panelist at the forum said, “The Catholic Church has been asking the federal government for at least 20 years for comprehensive immigration reform. The immigration issue affects all of us. It comes down to a moral and humanitarian issue.”

Tebbe noted that current policies and practices prohibit undocumented immigrants, including many who are working toward legal citizenship, from fully participating in society.

“From a legal status, they are aliens, but they are not aliens to our human family,” Tebbe said.

Megan Ritter, public policy director for the Indiana Farm Bureau, said, “We face a labor shortage in the agricultural sector, and the current system is broken.” She noted that laws that create a barrier to education “create an underclass that doesn’t need to be there.”

Mike O’Connor, director of state government affairs for Eli Lilly & Company said, “Businesses don’t like to take positions on controversial issues,” but Lilly executives decided the issue was too important to remain on the sidelines.

“Historically, we have benefited from immigrants’ ingenuity, their innovations, and their different thought processes,” O’Connor said. “We want to welcome these great minds. As a community, we need to make sure the welcome mat is out.”

Angela Smith Jones, public policy director for the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, said, “Employment openings exist in Indiana that require highly-skilled workers, but Indiana lacks enough highly-skilled people to fill them. A highly-skilled workforce benefits the entire community.”

Jones noted that it didn’t make any sense from a business perspective to put educational roadblocks in front of young, hardworking college students who will be “future Hoosier taxpayers and skilled workers.”

Tebbe, who has worked on behalf of the Church to defeat anti-immigration legislation in Indiana, said he is hopeful that state lawmakers will repeal a ban on resident tuition rate for college students, a goal contained in a Senate Bill 207.

“Senate Bill 207 is a moral issue, and it’s the right thing to do for these students who through no fault of their own were brought to this country as children,” Tebbe said. “For those who were already attending college when the law passed, it makes finishing cost-prohibitive.”

Senate Bill 207, authored by State Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, would grandfather undocumented college students who were already enrolled in college when the law changed. The bill passed the Senate 35-15, and was heard in the House Education committee on April 3. Less than a week earlier, a portion of Indiana’s controversial 2011 anti-immigration law was struck down by U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. For more information on pending legislation the Church is following, log on to www.indianacc.org.)

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