Cole Rainey-Slavick, a student at Bard College, was one of eight protesters arrested Tuesday. JOHN SPINK/ JSPINK@AJC.COM

8 people arrested during Georgia State protest of court decision

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.

Police identified the protesters as Pedro Castillo-Pastor, 18; Edgar Barrios-Ortiz, 21; Colin Rainey-Slavick, 19; Brenda Gonzales-Castro, 20; Melanie Rivas-Triana, 23; Luisa Stainback, 19; Angie Itzell Delarca, 22; and Arizbet Sanchez-Guiterrez, 21.

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.”

The protest followed a ruling Monday by Georgia’s highest court. The court rejected an appeal aimed at allowing immigrants without legal status to pay substantially lower in-state college tuition rates, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier reported.

In Monday’s unanimous opinion, Justice Harold Melton wrote that the Board of Regents, which governs the state’s university system, is immune from the students’ lawsuit under the principle of sovereign immunity, the legal doctrine that protects the state government and its agencies from being sued.

“It is settled that the Board is an agency of the State to which sovereign immunity applies,” the opinion says.

Student spokeswoman Ashley Rivas-Triana said about 100 students gathered to protest the decision at GSU, Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, where other protests were held.

They poured in from 12 different universities, seven of them in Georgia, Rivas-Triana said.

Rivas-Triana is a student at Freedom University, an underground university in Georgia serving undocumented students. She said students at GSU sat in a classroom space and hosted guest lecturers before continuing the sit-in after hours.

“We really wanted to show that undocumented students have a place in public higher institutions here in Georgia,” Rivas-Triana said.

She said students didn’t expect to get arrested but they were prepared to stay in the building as long as it took.

“And if arrests were to take place, we were going to take them as they came,” Rivas-Triana said.

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.

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