(INDYSTAR.com) - Michelle and Atziri Flores want to be teachers, but the Ben Davis High School graduates are taking the year off from school. They're babysitting, trying to save money for college.
Twin sisters, the Flores girls said they were brought by their parents to the United States from Mexico in 2008, when they were eight years old. They are undocumented, so even though they have lived in Indiana for the last nine years, they still don't qualify for in-state tuition at Indiana's public college and universities.
That means the tuition at Ivy Tech Community College, the state's most affordable public option, would cost the Flores girls nearly twice what it could their classmates from Ben Davis.
They can't afford it right now, Michelle Flores said.
Indiana is one of just three states that prohibits undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, but that could change.
During a legislative study committee hearing Wednesday, several Indiana lawmakers said they would support a bill to extend in-state tuition to Indiana's undocumented students.
"I think it'd be a gross mistake at this point not to make some changes," said Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero.
Undocumented students are granted equal access to a free public elementary and secondary education. So, students like the Flores sisters had no problem getting an education until they graduated high school.
Such guarantees are not made for higher education, though.
Under federal law, publicly-funded institutions cannot grant undocumented students scholarships, financial aid or other monetary benefits. Those benefits do not include in-state tuition, though, said Angela Adams, a Carmel-based immigration attorney.
There are at least 21 states, she said, that allow undocumented students to receive in-state tuition. Many of base eligibility on attendance and graduation from a state high school, rather than residency. That removes the barrier from students who aren't legal residents of a state and could be a model for Indiana, she said.
"Students should not be deprived of a college education because of their parents' choices," she said.
Most students have been in the United States for the majority of their lives, she said. Undocumented students and their families still pay taxes, yet don't receive the same public benefits, like tuition breaks, provided to legal residents.
It hasn't always been this way.
Victoria Hicks has been in the United States since the year 2000, when she was 11 years old. She graduated from high school and started attending Indiana University in Bloomington. In the middle of her studies, Indiana passed a law stripping the ability for undocumented students to receive in-state tuition.
Hicks had to leave school, not able to afford the sudden jump in tuition costs.
"It was the darkest time in my entire life," she said.
In 2013, the state passed a law grandfathering in students who'd started school college prior to July 1, 2011. Hicks was able to finish college, paying in-state tuition.
Now, she's in her last year Indiana University's Maurer School of Law and plans to take the Indiana bar with hopes to work as a prosecutor.
After hearing testimony from students like the Flores sisters and Hicks, Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville, said he supported extending in-state tuition to undocumented students.
"To deny someone the pursuit of higher learning, to me, is not fair," Melton said. "I hope we can get that taken care of next session."
Several other committee members echoed that sentiment, though others said they'd like to learn more about both sides of the issue. Lawmakers have about two months to consider the issue before making recommendations for the upcoming legislative session.
Call IndyStar reporter Arika Herron at (317) 444-6077. Follow her on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.