Georgia Bans Undocumented Students From Public Universities

It's the third state to create rules barring undocumented students from higher education.

By Seth Freed Wessler Oct 14, 2010

The state of Georgia has banned undocumented immigrants from attending public colleges and universities. The board of regents voted 14-2* to prohibit public universities from enrolling students without papers in any school that has rejected other qualified applicants for the past two years due to lack of space.

The vote makes Georgia one of three states to bar undocumented immigrants from higher education. South Carolina passed a more restrictive law in 2008 that bans undocumented applicants from matriculating into any public university whatsoever. Alabama does not allow undocumented people to enter two year community colleges.

The 18-member Georgia Board of Regents is appointed by the governor to make rules and regulations for the state’s public colleges and universities.

The decision comes a month after Congress defeated the DREAM act, which would have allowed young undocumented immigrants to attend college and gain citizenship.

In lieu of a DREAM Act, a number of states have voted to treat undocumented residents like any other applicant with papers. In at least 10 states, undocumented state residents can attend public universities at in-state tuition rates. The remaining states charge these students out-of-state tuition fees, but don’t meddle with their ability to enroll in school.

Georgia has moved furiously in the other direction. The regents today also ordered all of the state’s 35 campuses to check the immigration status of all admitted students paying in-state tuition rates.

The vote comes amid a growing climate of anti-immigrant sentiment in the state, based largely on conjecture and exaggeration. As I wrote in September:

The debate in Georgia has centered around complaints that admitting undocumented students into a crowded system pushes citizens out. A recent Mason-Dixon poll found that 67 percent of Georgians support an outright ban on admitting undocumented immigrants.

Ironically, undocumented students comprise less than two-tenths of a percentage of all Georgia public university students. And according to recent research, even those states that do provide in-state tuition to undocumented students are not seeing a significant rise in applicants from the population.

Despite this, the presence of undocumented immigrants in public universities has become a subject of heated controversy all over the country as states move to implement heavy handed policies that target immigrants.

The new rule will hit five campuses now, and more later. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, "the list of barred campuses can change over time but the regents said the following are impacted immediately: UGA, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Medical College of Georgia and Georgia College & State University."

Advocates are calling for a reversal of the vote. The AJC reports:

Before the meeting, about 20 people organized a protest and urged the regents to vote against the ban. The group included students, professors and representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union. They called the ban "un-American" and carried signs that read: "Education not deportation!" and "Board of Regents, do the right thing, please don’t ban me!"

*An earlier version of this post reported an incorrect vote count.