The court is on the wrong side of history, and its decision hurts Georgia. Here’s why the Regents should lift the bans on undocumented students by repealing Policy 4.1.6 and Policy 4.3.4.
All state universities exist first and foremost to educate the people who live and pay taxes there. According to a recent report by the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, immigrants contribute substantially to Georgia's economy. Immigrants represented 13 percent of the state's workforce in 2013, and between 2006 and 2010 new immigrant business owners earned a net business income of $2.9 billion. More importantly, undocumented immigrants paid over $352 million in state and local taxes in 2012, the most recent year of available data.
Eight students were arrested at Georgia State University when they refused to leave a protest Tuesday over a Georgia Supreme Court decision rejecting lower tuition for immigrants without legal status. Itzell Delarca and Arizbet Sanchez-Guiterrez. The protesters had occupied the first floor of Centennial Hall since Monday, students and university officials said. Georgia State spokeswoman Andrea Jones said university police asked the protesters to vacate the building Tuesday, and most of them left. "The eight arrested refused to leave," she said in a statement. "Police said the protesters had been disruptive earlier this morning, and they were concerned about possible disruption in the building at the start of the university's workday." Carlton Mullis, the deputy chief of police at Georgia State, said police intended to let students continue their sit-in Monday. "But overnight, at about 1:30 or 2 o'clock, they tried to surge the elevator to go upstairs, which we're not going to allow," Mullis said. "And they started shoving and pushing our police officers and became disruptive." Mullis said the students will be charged with criminal trespassing. JOHN SPINK /JSPINK@AJC.COM
Credit: Maureen Downey
Credit: Maureen Downey
The Georgia Budget & Policy Institute report also demonstrates that these policies undercut the state’s competitiveness in the national and global marketplace. They limit the making of a diverse, attractive workforce, setting Georgia behind 27 other states with more inclusive tuition policies.
They undermine Gov. Nathan Deal's Complete College Georgia initiative, which calls for the creation of 250,000 additional college graduates over the next five years. And they fail to capitalize on Georgia's investment in its K-12 school system by incentivizing talented young people to leave the state in search of an education. Those that do complete college out-of-state are less likely to return to Georgia once they begin their careers.
In fact, it is estimated that Georgia could increase state and local tax revenues by $10 million through a more skilled, higher earning workforce just by lifting the bans on undocumented students. Instead, Georgians are investing in the talents of young people only to watch them go untapped or to lose them to other, more welcoming, places.
In a powerful act of protest against these realities, on Monday undocumented immigrant students and documented student allies representing 12 universities from Georgia and across the country, including Harvard, Smith, Bard, Morehouse, and Spelman, participated in classroom sit-ins at three of Georgia's flagship public colleges.
At the University of Georgia, Georgia State University, and the Georgia Institute of Technology, participants occupied classrooms from which undocumented students are banned and together participated in integrated teach-ins about the histories of racialized oppression in the United States. In the act of sitting and learning together in this space, participants protested the ways in which they are caught up in these very processes.
Coordinated by Freedom University, an Atlanta-based freedom school for undocumented students in Georgia, these actions took place the 56th anniversary of the nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960. There, four Black students who integrated a whites-only Woolworth's counter to protest the store's policy of racial segregation ignited a youth-led movement that played a crucial role in mobilizing the nation in support of equal rights for all.
More than a half century later, in confirming the Board of Regents’ decision to refuse education to qualified undocumented young people, the Georgia Supreme Court lends support to segregation in higher education not unlike that protested by student leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in Greensboro and beyond. Like segregation then, these policies serve to maintain a racialized second class of citizens—in today's case, undocumented young people—as part of an uneducated, low-wage workforce. As state policy, this is unconscionable.
As university professors we participated in this week’s protests. The young people we encountered are bright, earnest, and eager to learn. They have much to contribute to make Georgia, this country, and the world a better and more prosperous place. They are also brave, determined, and clear about the fact that education is a human right.
We call upon the state of Georgia to stand up not only for what is right, but also for what is in its own economic interest. Rather than forcing undocumented young people into a life of substandard wages that produces little in the way of innovation or economic growth, let’s end Georgia’s legacy of segregation once and for all. Lift the bans and let them shine.