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Keep the University Gates Open for Georgia's DREAMers

Azadeh N. Shahshahani,
ACLU Foundation of Georgia
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April 14, 2011

Last week, seven undocumented students were arrested in Atlanta for engaging in a sit-in in front of Georgia State University. The students had gathered to call for the repeal of Georgia’s discriminatory policy that denies undocumented students access to higher education at five of the most selective institutions in the University System of Georgia (USG). The students were part of a network of youth activists organizing in support of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a bill that promotes fundamental fairness in access to higher education for all high school students, regardless of immigration status.

Georgina Perez, a 21-year-old Georgia resident who has lived in the U.S. since she was three years old, said in an interview:

“I’m a proud Georgian. I’m a proud Mexicana. I was brought to this country by a very courageous woman. She’s my hero. She’s my mother. She left everyone and everything she knew behind in order for her to give me a better life; so I’m not, I’m not going to let anyone or anything stop me from getting my higher education. I’m not going to let her sacrifices be in vain.”

Several students at the rally spoke to the importance of aspiring to higher education, as their parents had toiled hard to ensure that they were provided this opportunity.

The ACLU of Georgia sent a letter Tuesday to the Georgia Board of Regents calling for the repeal of this discriminatory policy. We reminded the board of a letter we sent them six months ago, signed by 30 organizations, asking them to reject the policy for a number of reasons rooted in principles of fundamental fairness and economic considerations for our state.

An ACLU of Georgia investigation has revealed that the policy has had even more damaging consequences, as it is being widely misinterpreted and misapplied. Several schools not covered by this policy appear to have improperly conditioned acceptance or registration for Fall 2011 upon verification of students’ lawful presence in the United States, potentially cutting off any and all access to higher education for undocumented students.

As our investigation uncovered, several USG institutions not among the five institutions covered by the policy have indicated in their admissions materials that acceptance or registration for Fall 2011 is contingent on verification of lawful presence. These include the North Georgia College & State University, Valdosta State University, and Augusta State University. Similarly, numerous USG institutions, including East Georgia College, Georgia Highlands College, and Georgia Southern University, erroneously suggest that the Board of Regents’ policy regarding eligibilityfor in-state tuition requires verification of lawful presence for acceptance or registration.

Such practices mislead students as to the actual admission and registration requirements at USG schools and raise significant privacy concerns by inquiring into students’ immigration status without a basis for doing so.

In addition, economic considerations cannot be underestimated. Denying higher education access to Georgia’s undocumented students further fails to capitalize on the state’s investment in students’ K-12 education. If this policy were to remain in effect, undocumented students will not be able to utilize their full potential to advance the competitive edge of the state they call home.

As Chancellor Erroll Davis has attested, allowing undocumented students to enroll in public colleges and universities in Georgia imposes no additional cost on the state, as they are already paying out-of-state tuition, which more than fully covers the cost of their education.

It is time for the Georgia Board of Regents to repeal this fundamentally unjust, economically shortsighted, and unnecessary policy.

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