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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Rep. Rebecca Kubacki has re-evaluated her position on a 2011 law regarding college tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants.

Shifting winds, change of heart

Sen. Rob Portman isn’t the only politician to have a change of heart on a major social issue after it hit closer to home.

Two northeast Indiana lawmakers have reversed their position on a tough 2011 law that resulted in teens and young adults losing their shot at a good education.

That law was adopted because some legislators wanted to show how tough they were on undocumented immigrants.

Portman, R-Ohio, said he changed his position on gay marriage because his son is gay and he saw no reason his son shouldn’t be able to make the same kind of legally sanctioned commitment a man and a woman can make. Because countless other Americans – conservatives as well as progressives, Democrats as well as hard-core Republicans such as Portman – have gay family members or friends, the nation has experienced a quick and convincing change of attitude on gay marriage. So sure is the acceptance that gays are wrongly being denied the right to marriage in most states that the Supreme Court last week heard from a leading Republican lawyer – former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olsen – why gay marriage bans should be struck down.

In Indiana, the General Assembly two years ago was caught up in an anti-immigrant fever and decided to charge out-of-state tuition rates to the children of undocumented immigrants – even those who have lived in Indiana for years.

The bill was pushed by Republican State Sen. Mike Delph, also the legislature’s loudest voice in calling for Indiana to bypass the federal government and enforce immigration law on its own, making life as difficult as possible for illegal immigrants.

Now, some legislators are changing their mind about the wisdom of such a move – particularly when the state is making aggressive efforts to increase college graduation rates. The difference in tuition rates – at Indiana University, it’s $10,000 for in-state and $31,000 for out-of-state students – can easily make the difference between attending college and looking for a career without a college education.

Last month, the Indiana Senate voted 35-15 in favor of Senate Bill 207, which restores in-state tuition rates for Hoosiers whose parents are undocumented immigrants. The House sponsor is Rebecca Kubacki of Syracuse, widely believed to be the first female Hispanic Republican elected to the General Assembly. She was a supporter of the 2011 bill as a legislative freshman and now wants to undo it.

“My parents were (the) first generation” to live in America, she said. “We grew up in a household where we were proud to be Americans, and we live by the law and the rules.

“When you look at a law, you think it is black and white,” she said last week in a telephone interview. But “I am a realist. I look at things as they are. We have to make the best of the situation. …

“These kids didn’t break the law. They are innocent victims.”

Kubacki compares the students affected by the law to children in a car in which the driver caused an accident. The passengers are not at fault.

“It’s not their fault” parents brought them to Indiana without gaining document status, she said. “They’re victims. We changed the law on them, and it’s not fair.”

Kubacki notes Indiana’s new emphasis on increasing college graduation rates.

“Our big problem is we can’t get enough Latino kids in college,” she said. “It’s not like we’re talking hundreds of thousands of kids.”

Kubacki adds: “There is absolutely no downside to educating anybody.”

Another northeast Indiana supporter of the 2011 bill, Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, is one of seven Senate co-authors of the current bill who would reverse it.

“These kids are victims,” Yoder was quoted as saying during a February hearing on the bill. “They‘ve done nothing wrong. They are not at liberty to tell their parents what to do when they cross this border, and I’m not sure how we as a society here in Indiana benefit by trying to limit their possibilities.”

Sometimes, politicians change positions purely for political gain or, at least, pragmatism.

But sometimes, politicians continue to think about their decisions and decide they were wrong. Consider Ronald Reagan, who as governor of California in 1967 signed the nation’s most sweeping abortion-rights law. The law led to an explosive growth in abortions, something Reagan did not expect, and in contemplation he later expressed great regret for that decision.

Today is a day many Americans celebrate for resurrection, for rebirth, at the beginning of a season described as a time for a new beginning. Give credit to Kubacki, Yoder and other lawmakers who are willing to change positions.

Tracy Warner, editorial page editor, has worked at The Journal Gazette since 1981. He can be reached at 461-8113 or by email, twarner@jg.net.

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