Immigrant students arrested protesting Georgia’s enrollment policies

Ga. Senator Fort joins protest, testifies against policies

Officers arrested a group of immigrant students and their supporters Tuesday after a protest of college enrollment and tuition policies that keeps some immigrant students out of Georgia’s college and university system.

The protest at the state's Board of Regents meeting included undocumented students from Freedom University and other Georgia institutions including Georgia State and Emory universities, according to an announcement about the protest on the group's Facebook page. The protesters, many wearing signs displaying #EndSegregation and #Boycott Georgia, called for a national boycott of the state.

The protesters began their demonstration around 9:15 a.m. A small group of them sat in chairs reserved for the Regents and held their own short “alternative” board meeting on the state’s policies. They called on businesses to boycott Georgia because of the policies, and after chanting “boycott Georgia,” and briefly leaving the room, the students returned and again took seats reserved for the Regents.

Around 9:50 a.m., the students were ordered by state patrol officers to vacate the Regents seats. They refused and were arrested.

“We respect our students’ right to protest in an appropriate manner,” the Board of Regents said in an emailed statement from a spokesman.

The demonstration was aimed at policies of the University System of Georgia that prevent students without lawful presence in the country from attending any institution in the system that has not enrolled all of its academically qualified applicants for the previous two years. But immigrant students say the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program gives them legal presence, so they should be allowed to attend the state schools.

For the other public colleges in Georgia that those students can attend, they must pay the more expensive out-of-state rate.

The DACA students and their supporters say those policies are discriminatory and often prevent them from attending school in the state because they cannot afford the higher rates.

“Our policy was adopted several years ago to mirror applicable law,” read a statement from the Regents on Tuesday. “That law required public higher education — including the University System — to ensure that only students who could demonstrate lawful presence were eligible for certain benefits, including in-state tuition. That law remains in effect, and, therefore, so will our policy.”

Georgia Sen. Vincent Fort joined the protesters and testified during the group’s mock hearing, but did not participate in the further demonstration and was not arrested.

Fort, D-Atlanta, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “These are people who want to be part of the American Dream and are being denied because of their immigration status … It’s unfair and it’s discriminatory.”

Salvador Alvarado — who was brought to the country from El Salvador at age 7 — testified that he graduated from Berkmar High School in Gwinnett County in 2014, as one of the top students in his class, but because of the state’s policies he could not attend a top state school. His family could not afford the out-of-state fees at another college, and he received a scholarship to attend college out of state, he said.

Tuesday’s protest follows a long history of demonstrations from the immigrant students, who have also held protests outside the state Capitol, at some Georgia colleges and at other Regents meetings.