The State Board of Regents voted Wednesday to ban illegal immigrants from attending Georgia's top public colleges starting next fall, but that will not be the final action on the polarizing issue.
Lawmakers plan to introduce a bill to bar these students from all public colleges -- the 35 institutions in the University System of Georgia and the 26 in the Technical College System of Georgia. Both Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates have said they support such a measure.
"The regents were heading in the right direction, but I just wish they had taken it one step further," Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, said. "A bill will be introduced this session that says no illegals in any public college. I have a hard time believing it won't pass."
The regents approved prohibiting illegal immigrants from attending any college that has rejected academically qualified applicants for the past two academic years because of space or other issues. The affected campuses are: University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Medical College of Georgia and Georgia College & State University. Officials could not say immediately how many qualified applicants had been turned away at those schools.
The ban means Georgia is following South Carolina, which prohibits illegal immigrants from all public colleges.
Debate over illegal immigration and higher education resurfaced last spring after Jessica Colotl, an illegal immigrant attending Kennesaw State University, was arrested on campus for a traffic violation. College officials disclosed they had charged her in-state tuition. State rules require illegal immigrants pay the more expensive out-of-state rates.
Charles Kuck, Colotl's immigration attorney, said his client may have brought the issue to the forefront, but she didn't cause the new rules.
"This was bound to come up again," Kuck said. "The sad thing is they don't know this won't make a difference. They're robbing children of hope and an education, that's what they did. They won't make people leave this country because it's still better for them here than it is back at home."
Regent Jim Jolly, who chaired the committee that recommended the new policies, said they are not "equipped to serve as immigration authorities" but the new rules will make sure students are classified properly for tuition purposes.
Of the 310,361 students enrolled, 501 are classified as "undocumented" and are paying out-of-state tuition, Jolly said. These students did not provide documentation to determine their tuition status. They may be in this country illegally.
"Clearly our institutions are not being inundated but undocumented students and Georgia taxpayers are not subsidizing the small number enrolled," Jolly said.
Still, he said, the ban should alleviate concerns that these students take seats away from U.S. citizens. The five campuses enroll 29 undocumented students.
Regent Richard Tucker voted against the ban and a new verification rule, saying it would burden colleges.
The new rules require campuses to verify the "lawful presence" of students seeking in-state tuition. Colleges can use several methods, such as the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlement (SAVE) program, a federal database that typically charges 50 cents for each background check.
College officials said they need to figure out how to implement the new policy and make applicants aware of the changes.
"Georgia State admitted over 13,000 students this past fall, so it will be a large undertaking," said Tim Renick, the college's chief enrollment officer. "We plan to work with the other impacted universities to see if we can develop some common practices. This should help to reduce applicant confusion about the new rules."
Eric Cuevas, a recruiter at Georgia Perimeter College, said some students already are confused about which campuses they can attend and wary that completing an applications could lead to deportation.
"We're not purposely recruiting these students, it just happens," Cuevas said. "Do you know how hard it is to get a Hispanic student to even consider college? This just made it a lot harder."
Before the meeting, about 20 people protested the ban. They carried signs that read: "Education not deportation!" and "Board of Regents, do the right thing, please don’t ban me!"
"They are not taking seats away from American students," said Eva Cardenas, a sophomore at Clayton State University. "They earned their seats."
Other students said illegal immigrants are breaking the law and should not be rewarded with college.
"For every illegal person who is attending a public university, that's another U.S. citizen turned away," said David Bachman, a student at Middle Georgia College. "What is most astonishing is that our elected officials in Washington should be enforcing these laws instead of the State Board of Regents."
Regents Vice Chairman Felton Jenkins voted against the ban, saying it was against the board's mission, which is to promote education.
"I just think people who are qualified ought to get in," Jenkins said. "They worked hard and earned their spot. They could help make the state a better place."
Regents voting for the ban were: Jolly, Kenneth R. Bernard Jr., James Bishop, Frederick Cooper, C. Thomas Hopkins Jr., W. Mansfield Jennings Jr., Donald M. Leebern Jr., William "Dink" H. NeSmith Jr., Doreen Stiles Poitevint, Willis J. Potts Jr., Wanda Yancey Rodwell, Kessel Stelling Jr., Benjamin Tarbutton III and Larry Walker. Larry Ellis and Bob Hatcher were not present.
The State Board of Regents Wednesday approved four actions to help ensure that no illegal immigrants are charged taxpayer supported in-state tuition rates. The rules also seek to calm public concerns that illegal immigrants are taking seats away from U.S. citizens. Here are the rules:
- Add a section to all applications explaining the legal ramifications for knowingly providing false information.
- Require applicants to state on the applications whether they are eligible and seeking in-state tuition.
- Order all 35 campuses to verify the "lawful presence" of any admitted student seeking in-state tuition.
- Deny illegal immigrants admission to any college that has turned away academically qualified applicants because of a lack of space or other issues. Next fall this will apply to: University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Medical College of Georgia and Georgia College & State University.
Source: University System of Georgia