7 Immigrant Youth Arrested in Atlanta for Demanding Higher Ed Access

The students were protesting Georgia's new law that forbids undocumented students from enrolling in five state universities.

By Julianne Hing Apr 06, 2011

On Tuesday afternoon at Georgia State University in Atlanta seven immigrant youth activists were arrested for blocking traffic while protesting a newly passed ban on undocumented immigrant students enrolling in the five most competitive public universities in Georgia. As of this morning, the students had yet to be released from jail and are awaiting a hearing this afternoon.

Georgina Perez, Viridiana Martinez, Jose Rico, Dayanna Rebolledo, Andrea Rosales, David Ramirez and Maria Marroquin were arrested. An eighth student, Dulce Guerrero, stepped out at the last moment to act as a media representative for the group. All are undocumented immigrant youth who said they’ve faced barriers to getting their education because of their immigration status. According to Mohammad Abdollahi, an undocumented immigrant activist who helped organize the protest, bond has been set at $2,000 for each person.

The eight protesters were from Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania, and called on the Georgia State University administration to refuse to comply with the new law, which forbids undocumented immigrant students from enrolling in five Georgia public colleges if the school has turned away other academically-eligible students. Georgia is the second state after South Carolina to institute such a ban, and the state is also weighing other anti-immigrant legislation modeled after Arizona’s SB 1070.

Before she was arrested, Georgina Perez, a 21-year-old Georgia resident who’s lived in the U.S. since she was three years old, explained why she was going public with her story:

Throughout the last five years us as undocumented youth, we have done everything to get open dialogue with elected officials and politicians…We’ve done the petitions, the flyering, the lobbying, the protests, the rallies. And instead of our voices being heard we’re just not seeing any change. We’re seeing our communities be criminalized, we’re seeing racist legislation, we’re seeing family separation. And that’s why today I’m coming out as undocumented and unafraid.

I’m tired of politicians always using us as scapegoats, always criminalizing us, in order for them to win a seat. I’m not going to apologize for my mother bringing me here. I’m not going to apologize for speaking my native language. 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. I’m not going to blame her…I thank her for bringing me here.

There’s a broad spectrum of state approaches to dealing with undocumented immigrant students’ access to higher education. California is considering a state DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented students to become eligible for financial aid, though it’s had to defend AB 540, the ten-year-old law which considers anyone who graduated from a California high school and has lived in the state for at least three years a California resident so they can pay in-state tuition, regardless of their immigration status.

Other states allow undocumented students to enroll in community college and state universities but force them to pay out-of-state tuition. Arizona has actually been turning a profit from laws that force undocumented immigrants to pay three times as much in tuition as they would have to pay if they were recognized as Arizona residents. More so than for green card holders and citizens, paying for college becomes undocumented students’ most significant barrier to accessing higher education because undocumented students are barred from accessing any kind of federal student aid or grants.

According to Abdollahi, the students had yet to hear any response from Georgia State University administration.