Immigrant students and their supporters protest Georgia’s college enrollment policies Tuesday during the state Board of Regents meeting in Atlanta. (Janel Davis/AJC)

Immigrant students protest Georgia’s college enrollment policies

Editor's note: Georgia banned dreamers, children of undocumented immigrants who have lived mostly in the U.S., from its five best colleges and universities, stirring some of them to protest their exclusion at the state Board of Regents meetings. As President-elect Donald Trump was campaigning on ejecting undocumented immigrants, the students have filed suit to be allowed in. Late in the year, some Georgia universities such as Emory are considering declaring themselves sanctuary schools, which caused one Georgia legislator to promise to take action that would cut funding to those schools.

Original story: A day after student protests over the handling of complaints about racism on campus led to the resignation of the top administrators at the University of Missouri, a group of about 25 students in Atlanta held a silent protest against the state’s enrollment policies for some immigrant students.

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

The students, some enrolled at the five schools in the exclusionary policy and others enrolled at Emory and Freedom University, an underground classroom for undocumented immigrants provided by volunteer teachers at an undisclosed location in Athens, protested during the monthly meeting of the state’s Board of Regents for the University System of Georgia, Tuesday at its offices in Atlanta.

As the board went through its agenda, the students stood around the room, linked arm-in-arm with raised fists, some with tape over their mouths on which was written the policy number of the exclusionary enrollment provision.

Regents chairman Neil Pruitt offered the students an opportunity to address the board, which some have done at past meetings. The students did not respond and continued their silent demonstration. The full group meeting was disbanded for smaller committee meetings after a Regent complained he could not focus on a presentation while the demonstration was going on. During the committee meeting, the demonstrators stood silently on chairs and disobeyed requests to sit. They were eventually escorted out of the room by police.

“Segregating schools, segregating campuses and dividing us from students we spent years in (grade) school with is not right,” said Paola Marquez, 21, a senior student and demonstrator from Georgia State.

Tuesday’s demonstration continues the more than two years of protests of the University System’s policies by undocumented immigrant students and their supporters.

The enrollment prohibition now applies to the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State, Augusta University and Georgia College and State universities. A spokesman for the state Board of Regents said in 2011, when it was put into place, that the board adopted the ban to address concerns that academically qualified Georgia residents could be blocked from attending state colleges because of students living illegally in the U.S.

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