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State policies on illegal immigrants force APS valedictorian to leave Georgia for college

20150518_104434.mp4 from Shawna Dix on Vimeo.

The valedictorian of an Atlanta high school is seeking donations to pay for college because he is not eligible for HOPE due to his immigration status. Nor can Marlon Portillo attend Georgia Tech or University of Georgia, both of which accepted him, because of a 2011 policy that bars illegal immigrants from any University System of Georgia institutions that turned away academically qualified students for the past two years.

In essence, the policy keeps illegal immigrants from the state's most selective public colleges. Students may attend other colleges in the system, but must pay out-of-state tuition. They cannot receive HOPE.

So, Marlon is going to a Tennessee college willing to underwrite part of the costs, but he must come up with the rest.

Federal law does not bar illegal immigrants from attending public colleges, leaving it up to individual states to "decide for themselves whether or not to admit illegal aliens into their public post-secondary institutions."

Georgia, a state in desperate need of more STEM majors, has a policy that is now compelling the valedictorian of a science-based high school to leave the state to continue his education.

Carver has set up a  Go Fund Me account for Marlon. "At Carver, we know that our students just need the opportunity to be successful," wrote parent liaison Tonnesha Edmond in an email. "Marlon must have funding to get his opportunity. As the valedictorian who has already completed two years of college during high school due to dual enrollment, he may still miss out on a golden opportunity."

Here is what Marlon wrote on his fund-raiser site:

My name is Marlon Portillo and I am the Valedictorian for the Carver Health Sciences and Research Class of 2015. I have worked hard the last four years to make it to this point.

I have been dual enrolled in my high school and Atlanta Metropolitan College since my junior year. I was initially accepted to several schools including the University of North Georgia, Tuskegee University, South Carolina State University, Fort Valley State University, Kennesaw State University, and Georgia State University.

I was also accepted to the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. I even qualify for full tuition scholarships for both schools because I am the valedictorian but because of my immigration status (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA) I am unable to attend these schools or receive scholarships and federal funding.

Fisk University in Nashville Tennessee did offer me a scholarship despite my status, but I must come up with the rest of the money over the next four years. I am asking that you all please donate to my campaign so that my dream of a college education can become a reality.



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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.