Rick Badie: Students unfair target of tough talk

We don’t want them in our colleges and universities. So what if they make straight A’s and juggle jobs to pay for — no, to earn — a degree.

It doesn’t matter. Illegal immigrants need to stay off Georgia’s college and technical school campuses.

On Tuesday, the House Higher Education Committee passed a bill that would bar illegal immigrants from the University System or the Technical College System of Georgia. If it becomes a law, that means all schools, from my alma mater in the Classic City to Georgia Perimeter College, would abide by it.

Currently, these students can enroll if they can afford the out-of-state tuition. Apparently that pricey requirement doesn’t pack enough sting when it comes to legislation to curb illegal immigration.

We’ve lost our way on a complex issue that poses legitimate concerns for Georgia and this country. It leads to a lot of grandstanding, posturing and practically a race to see which politicians can talk tough and follow through with tough laws on illegal immigrants, notably brown-skinned ones.

Recently, a former AJC colleague told me a joke he’d heard a comedian recite about the issue. If the folk crossing the border illegally were buxom Swedish blondes, we’d open the floodgates. Put ’em up in the Hyatt.

As a Southern black man, I flinch when I hear someone, especially an elected official, say basically what HB 59 amounts to: “We don’t want them in our schools.” The reasoning — that they take seats away from students in the country legally — lacks depth.

Arizona is one of the most maligned states in the country when it comes to dealing with the societal strains of illegal immigration. Yet even their immigration law allows illegal immigrants to attend public colleges, provided payment of out-of-state tuition rates.

In Georgia, we are blind to the big picture. Our borders won’t be better protected because José has been barred from the schoolhouse door. Jobs won’t suddenly become abundant because Johanes can’t attend J-school. And that Mexican pipeline of illegal drugs, which runs to and through our communities, won’t dry up. Demand dictates supply.

At Tuesday’s panel hearing, Chancellor Erroll Davis questioned the bill and told officials that capacity is not being stressed by thousands of illegal students. Moreover, the state Board of Regents took action in October. One rule requires all campuses to verify the “lawful presence” of admitted students seeking in-state tuition.

A system audit has found that, of the 310,361 students who were enrolled in the university system in the fall, 501 were classified as “undocumented” and payers of out-of-state tuition. Such a classification doesn’t mean they’re here illegally.

Please stop drinking the Kool-Aid. Don’t define as sound law a measure that denies any young person the opportunity to work his or her way through college; to become a contributing member of society.

We’re afraid of something. Hunches abound as to what that might truly be.

But who wants to go there?

Rick Badie, an Opinion columnist, is based in Gwinnett. Reach him at rbadie@ajc.com or 770-263-3875.