By SCOTT WEISSER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Did a 6-month-old do anything wrong? State Sen. Carlin Yoder doesn’t think so.
Yoder was discussing Senate Bill 207. He’s co-author of the proposal that would allow undocumented immigrants enrolled in public colleges as of July 1, 2011, to pay in-state tuition rates. It partially counters legislation passed two years ago requiring those students to pay higher non-resident fees.
Yoder, R-Middlebury, was also talking about a meeting that gave him a different perspective.
“I’ve always been fairly strong on immigration reform, and being fairly hard-lined about it,” the lawmaker told about 40 people gathered for a Third House meeting Saturday morning in downtown Goshen. Then, Yoder said, he met with some students. One of them was brought into the United States when she was 6 months old.
“She was as American as I was,” he said. “...She knows nobody in Mexico. Her family’s here.”
Yoder said the young woman had completed about two years of college and had clear career goals.
“And it affected me to think that she can’t finish her school now,” Yoder said. “She can’t afford it. She has no options. And for anyone to say, ‘She needs to go back to Mexico’ — and I heard that — it was very offensive.
“We have got to do better than that.”
Yoder said there are big issues on the nation’s borders.
“And that’s a federal discussion,” he said. “I’m very disappointed with our federal government and how they handled that. But here in Indiana and where I’m at, I think it’s not too much to asked to allow these students who are already in college, who we allowed to get there, to finish.”
Those students are driven, committed and are going to contribute to society, in Yoder’s view.
“They want to be a part of this country,” he said. “Instead of making it more miserable for them, making their lives even more turned upside down, why not extend a helping hand just a little bit?”
Yoder said he doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for an adult who crosses the border illegally, though he understands the reasons why. As a father, Yoder said, he’d probably do the same thing if he saw a better life for his children. The legislator also feels there should be consequences for breaking the law.
“This is such a difficult issue,” he said.
Yoder’s comments came after audience member Dara Marquez voiced her support of SB 207. A college student who grew up in Elkhart, she’s also an undocumented resident. Marquez said she had around 200 petition signatures in support of the Senate bill, and thanked Yoder for his efforts.
“It’s something that’s really important to many people,” she said.
Yoder told Marquez to keep telling her story.
“I cannot wait for the defense for why you shouldn’t finish school,” he said to applause. “For anyone who says a 6-month-old committed a crime when they crossed the border is another discussion I would love to have.”
Tax cut proposal
Among many other issues discussed at Saturday’s Third House was Gov. Mike Pence’s proposed 10 percent cut in the state income tax.
Jeremy Bernstein, an organizer for Americans for Democratic Action, spoke out against the cut. He said a recent study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy ranked Indiana 41st out of 50 states in terms of tax fairness. Bernstein said that means taxes fall too heavily on the middle class and poor, and too lightly on the wealthy.
“Gov. Pence’s proposed cut will only make the situation worse,” he said.
Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman also voiced concerns.
“Gov. Pence says we should do it because we can afford to do it,” he said. Yet Kauffman also wondered if local option income tax and EDIT monies are being kept as part of the surplus — monies he said should have gone back to local units of government.
Adding to Kauffman’s comments, state Rep. Wes Culver said there are also issues of unfunded pensions and unemployment debt that needs to be paid back to the federal government.
Culver said he’s not against a tax cut, but added, “I want us to pay what we owe.”
Third House is a Goshen Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event allowing local residents to listen to and question state lawmakers. The next event is set for Feb. 23 at the Goshen Chamber office.