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Opinion: Georgia 'replaced Jim Crow with Juan Crow.' State Supreme Court hears case Friday.

Georgia has limited the ability of children of undocumented immigrants to attend public colleges and universities. On Friday morning, proponents of greater access will make their case to the state Supreme Court.

The court will hear oral arguments in Olvera et al. v. University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents et al. (The court is hearing the case Friday in the Gilmer County Courthouse in Ellijay.)

In the official summary, the high court outlines the case College students who are not U.S. citizens are appealing a Georgia Court of Appeals decision that upheld the dismissal of their lawsuit by a Fulton County judge. The students are seeking a decision that they are entitled to in-state tuition at Georgia’s colleges and universities. (The summary gives an excellent overview of both sides.)

One of the proponents of greater access is Angela D. Meltzer of  U-Lead,  an Athens-based volunteer group that helps children of immigrants navigate the college search, including the SAT, tutoring, applications, essays and scholarships. Many of the students meet the criteria for  Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, a federal policy that enables immigrants who were brought here illegally as children, attended school here and haven't been convicted of felonies to earn a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation.

“These are highly motivated students who want to go on to post-secondary education. However, they are often thwarted by Georgia's refusal to grant them in-state tuition, but they nevertheless pursue that dream,” says Meltzer, who makes her case in a guest column today.

The AJC reported two weeks ago on a new report that contends Georgia loses income by denying wider higher ed access to DACA students.

The AJC reported:

Barring some immigrant students from in-state tuition rates costs Georgia about $10 million in lost tax revenue each year, by decreasing access to higher education and better-paying jobs, according to a report out today from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

Georgia's public University System bars those immigrants from attending institutions that haven't enrolled all of their academically eligible students for the past two years. Those schools include some of the state's most selective: the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State and Georgia College and State universities. At the state's remaining public colleges, those immigrant students are required to pay out-of-state tuition rates, which can be thousands of dollars more than in-state rates.

The policies have led to a lawsuit against the state's university system by a group of immigrants accepted into the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The federal government says people granted this relief are legally present in the U.S. Georgia's in-state tuition policy requires "lawful presence." State attorneys have said the federal program doesn't affect Georgia's tuition policies.

With that background, here is Meltzer's op-ed.

By Angela D. Meltzer

Georgia is one of only a small handful of states that refuses to allow its DACA students any access to the benefit of paying in-state tuition rates at its public colleges.

The parents of these children brought them here at a very young age without legal sanction. They have attended and graduated from Georgia public schools, where many have excelled academically, they speak English fluently and they have never been convicted of a felony.

The federal government considers such students “legally present,” which prevents their deportation, allows them to work, and provides a Social Security number, although they cannot apply for U.S. citizenship.  At the state level, legal presence is often sufficient to qualify for in-state tuition rates, but not in Georgia.

In 2013, the Department of Homeland Security announced DACA students are considered “lawfully present,” affirming the individual has temporary permission to be in the United States.

The Georgia Board of Regents position continues to deny in-state tuition to DACA students, resting on thinly veiled semantics arguments between the terms, “legal presence “ and “lawful presence.”

The 2008 Senate Bill 492 prohibits in-state tuition to unauthorized immigrants. The Board of Regents Policy 4.3.4 -- on which it relies to deny in-state tuition to DACA students -- requires “lawful presence” to qualify for in-state tuition.

Georgia is out of step with most other Southern states such as Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee and others, which grant in-state tuition rates to DACA students at least on some levels.

Is this Georgia Board of Regents policy just a smoke screen for a modern form of “segregation” based on immigration status – Juan Crow replacing Jim Crow?

Georgia is going back to a time when it denied education to a certain group of people. Do we allow the Board of Regents to bring the entire state back to that ugly era in its history?

DACA students attending public colleges are required to pay out-of-state tuition, which is often four times the cost of in-state tuition. In actual dollars, for example, the cost of in-state tuition for two semesters at the University of North Georgia is approximately $2,500 whereas out-of-state tuition is approximately $8,900.

For this highly motivated DACA student, this barrier to seeking postsecondary education often means dropping out during alternate semesters to work full time to save for the next semester’s tuition.

This mean-spirited policy flies in the face of Georgia’s goal to strengthen its competitiveness by significantly increasing the number of Georgians with postsecondary school credentials. Georgia needs a productive, highly motivated, educated workforce. Already we have lost many of these students to DACA-friendly states and other private universities that have offered them full scholarships.  And thus they take their talents elsewhere.

Denial of in-state tuition is just one of the Board of Regents onerous affronts to the DACA students. Another Board of Regents policy, enacted in 2010, places an outright ban on DACA students from attending Georgia’s five selective public universities: The University of Georgia, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Medical College of Georgia and Georgia College and State University.

On Friday, there will be a third court hearing in the Supreme Court of Georgia regarding the In-State-Tuition Law Suit against this Board of Regents Policy.  It is unfair and unconscionable to burden and thwart our highly motivated immigrant students any further.   Hopefully the Georgia Supreme Court and the court of public opinion will agree.  Our legislators, our governor and the Board of Regents also need to re-think this damaging policy and take corrective action as soon as possible.




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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.