Chuy Vidaurri-Rodriguez is an aspiring surgeon. He graduated from Bloomington High School South in 2011 with a grade-point average above 4.0. He is an IU sophomore and biology major, a recreational soccer player and community food pantry volunteer.
Thanks to private merit scholarships and in-state tuition, Chuy is also an IU student.
But after starting his freshman year, Chuy had the rug pulled out from under him.
With the passing of House Bill 1402 and Senate Bill 590 in the Indiana General Assembly in 2011, he lost access to in-state tuition.
Chuy is an immigrant. His family of six left Querétaro, Mexico, for Bloomington eight years ago in search of better education and higher quality of life for the four children.
They came in legally with travel visas, Chuy said. They ended up staying.
It was a decision Chuy’s parents made, a decision in which he had no say.
If it weren’t for the financial help of a generous private donor, Chuy would have had to drop out of IU last year, he said.
Undocumented students like Chuy, students who were already enrolled in an Indiana college in 2011, might be given a second chance this fall.
If a new state senate bill, Senate Bill 207, is passed today, it could mean about 200 Indiana students would have their resident tuition reinstated, said Angela Adams, an immigration attorney for Indianapolis-based firm Lewis & Kappes.
Adams, one of the primary driving forces behind SB 207, said she is fairly optimistic about the success of the bill, thanks to the federal passing of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in June 2012.
DACA allowed any undocumented individuals who were brought to the U.S. at a young age and had resided in the country for at least five years, without a criminal record, to apply for deferred action status. These immigrants are now eligible to receive a renewable work permit for two years, a social security number and an Indiana driver’s license.
“It’s a whole group of kids who are now lawfully present in the U.S.,” Adams said. “That’s a totally different situation than we had last year.”
The Vidaurri-Rodriguez brothers no longer have to fear deportation and can get jobs to help make ends meet for the family, Chuy said. It has provided the family with some relief, but still does not guarantee them access to an affordable education, he said.
For Chuy, SB 207 means more than just regaining his own in-state tuition, he said. It could mean there would be enough money left over for a college education for his three younger siblings.
This year, Chuy’s younger brother, Lalo, is a freshman at IU. The brothers are currently splitting the private funding from the family’s sponsor.
Their two younger siblings, Carlos and Daniela, ages 18 and 16, respectively, also plan to attend college. As of now, they would both have to pay out-of-state tuition, a cost the family is unable to pay. The family donor’s funding will only go so far, Chuy said.
“For four children, that’s a lot of money,” Chuy said. “Even with all of us working, it’ll be really hard.”
The number of students affected by the bill is relatively small, said Mark Land, IU associate vice president of university communications, but for those students, the benefit would be drastic. The University is fully supportive of the bill, he said.
“All they’ve ever known is being an Indiana resident,” Land said. “Hopefully this gives these students a chance to pick up where they left off.”
Before HB 1402 and SB 590, undocumented students were allowed to enroll in six out of the seven public universities in Indiana, including IU.
Beginning July 2011, college tuition more than tripled for undocumented students across the state.
This year, out-of-state IU students pay $30,200 in tuition fees alone, versus $8,750 for Indiana residents — a difference of $21,450 per year.
If the Senate and House, passes SB 207, this tuition increase will be reversed.
Adams has been working with Indiana students to tell the stories of those affected by SB 207.
She has been taking deferred action students, such as IU junior Fred Diego and former IU student Victoria Hicks, to the Indiana Statehouse to shake hands with legislators. At one Senate hearing, Hicks gave a testimony about how she was forced to drop out of IU her junior year after losing in-state tuition.
Diego has been helping publicize the bill across the IU campus and the entire state. He currently co-manages indianadreams.org, which Adams funded. The website shows the photos and stories of 50 undocumented students across Indiana, uploaded by the students themselves.
“The campaign is about destroying the stereotypes and putting a face to the issue,” Diego said. “The face is not a gang member. It is that of a smiling valedictorian or a future doctor. This individual is being denied the opportunity to reach full potential because of a crime he did not commit.”
Adams said one of the main arguments against in-state tuition for undocumented students is the perception that the parents of these students are not legal, contributing members of society.
“They’re already in our workforce,” Adams said. “They pay taxes. All they want to do is go to school. It’s in the state’s best interest to educate everyone and not create barriers. Why do we have to look outside the state when we have this talent pool right here? They already call Indiana home.”
If the bill passes through the Senate today, Adams hopes the House will consider an amendment that offers in-state tuition to all deferred action students in the state.
This amendment could affect an estimated 3,000 potential college students in Indiana, she said. It could make in-state tuition a reality not just for Chuy, but also for his younger siblings.
“I worry about what will happen,” Chuy said. “I want them to have the same opportunities as me.”
Getting by the last eight years has been a family effort for the Vidaurri-Rodriguez.
Their father works 80-hours per week at both Cracker Barrel and Red Lobster while their mother works as a chef for Delta Delta Delta.
During the family’s first night staying in their own apartment, they had no furniture or dishes. They sat on the floor together and ate pasta out of one pot.
Three years ago, the Vidaurri-Rodriguez family moved into their first house, which was provided to them by Habitat for Humanity and built with the help of the brothers.
Chuy and Lalo said they were always their family’s “designated translators,” since they learned English in school in Mexico.
The family has only been back to Mexico once. Chuy and Lalo said they would like to go back to visit, but they consider Bloomington their home.
“I think I have a right to study in a place that’s my home,” Chuy said. “We grew up here. We’re part of this community, and this is where we belong.”