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Wednesday, Feb. 21
The Indiana Daily Student

IU Latino Studies experts address legal, economic, social implications

Sylvia Martinez, an IU assistant professor of education and Latino Studies, noticed a sign written in Spanish at 6th Street and College Avenue on Tuesday. It read “Bienvenidos a Bloomington” – in English, “Welcome to Bloomington.”

A day earlier, a very different message was sent to Indiana’s Latino community, according to several Bloomington residents.

Gov. Mitch Daniels signed SB 590 and HB 1402 into law Tuesday, pieces of legislation that restrict work opportunities for illegal immigrants and deny them in-state tuition for tertiary education, respectively.

In an act of protest, two IU students, juniors Erick Gama and Uriel Omar Gama (who goes by Omar), entered the lobby of Gov. Daniels’ office, along with three other individuals. They were arrested about 20 minutes later on the grounds of trespassing.

Cesar Escovar is the regional director for Lambda Upsilon Lambda, a Latino fraternity the Gama brothers are members of. Escovar said the brothers believed there was a possibility they could be arrested, but they were expecting to meet with the governor. The brothers had made efforts to reach Gov. Daniels in the past to speak with him about SB 590 and HB 1402, but their requests were denied.

Erick and Omar, who entered the country at a young age and both children of undocumented immigrants, saw the protest as a last chance.

“The action that they took on Monday was out of desperation and was a last resort,” Escovar said. “If this law was passed, which it has now, they would not be able to afford even staying in school. They had nothing to lose in that aspect.”

Indiana is one of several states that have acted on anti-immigration legislation recently. Fabio Rojas, an IU associate professor for sociology and Latino Studies, said the movement has much to do with politicians playing off of stigma against immigrants during a trying economic period.

“Right now, we’re in a very tough time for immigrants,” he said. “Across the country, there have been a number of initiatives aimed at restricting immigration or controlling people who come to this country illegally.”

Despite its social implications and its connection to identity, Rojas said he is shocked the immigration debate has reached this state.

“I’m surprised an issue like this even comes up in Indiana,” he said. “As a percentage of the whole state, immigrants are actually a very small percentage. I find all of this very dismaying.”

Indiana is home to 6.25 million residents, and only 170,000 of those are foreign-born, non-U.S. citizens, according to the most recent data by the U.S. Census

Immigrants without citizenship total less than three percent of the state’s population, and not all  of that three percent are considered “illegal.”

For the undocumented percentage of the immigrant population, costs of in-state education at IU would triple. With these costs, along with barriers to employment caused by SB 590, Indiana cuts off the majority of opportunities for illegal immigrants, said Christiana Ochoa, professor and Charles L. Whistler Faculty Fellow in IU’s Maurer School of Law.

“What the Latino community is hearing is that they are now living in a hostile environment,” said Ochoa, who is also a professor in the Latino Studies program.

“It is much more difficult to live, to work, to be a student in this state if you’re undocumented. ... It makes it very difficult for individuals who have been here in that capacity to continue to function in the way that they have.”

Fellow law professor Luis Fuentes-Rowher said he does not understand the motives behind SB 590 and HB 1402. He said there seems to be no logic behind the legislation other than getting immigrants — some too young to decide to come to the U.S. — to “just leave.”

“What is gained by preventing illegal immigrants or the children of illegal immigrants?” he said. “What is gained from preventing them from getting a college education? In the end, you end up creating an underclass.

“You either round them up or ship them back, or I’d hate to imagine what’s going to happen to them.” Martinez argued that preventing illegal immigrants from attaining higher education will be a detriment to the state itself, not just the undocumented population.

“If we really want to think about economic contributions that this population can make, then we need to think about that,” she explained. “Let’s get them educated and give them that opportunity so that they can get good jobs and pay taxes.”

The anti-immigration legislation Gov. Daniels signed into law Tuesday comes less than five months after the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act was effectively tabled in the U.S. Senate. That bill was co-sponsored by Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican.

Lugar retracted his support from the latest introduction of the DREAM Act in interest of the 2012 campaign.

“Notice what’s happening to Lugar today,” Fuentes-Rowher said. “People are arguing that he’s not a real Republican. There’s the idea that he’ll be challenged in the primary next year. People are really upset. Last time he won, it was like a 60 percent landslide.”

Ochoa said the efforts of those in Indianapolis on Monday, while commendable, will probably have little effect, and the chances of Gov. Daniels altering his plans are slim.
“I highly doubt it,” she said of the possibility of change. “Unfortunately, the power of civil disobedience is limited. The momentum behind this kind of legislation is unfortunately very strong.”

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