Georgians without legal status travel north and highlight their plight

Georgians who lack legal status in the U.S. spoke about their plight during a discussion at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. Thursday, highlighting Peach State policies that bar them from attending five of their home state’s top universities and paying heavily discounted in-state tuition rates at its others. By JEREMY REDMON/jredmon@ajc.com
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Georgians who lack legal status in the U.S. spoke about their plight during a discussion at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. Thursday, highlighting Peach State policies that bar them from attending five of their home state’s top universities and paying heavily discounted in-state tuition rates at its others. By JEREMY REDMON/jredmon@ajc.com

Northampton, Mass. – Six Georgians who lack legal status in the U.S. are traveling to colleges across the Northeast this week, seeking admission to them while highlighting Peach State policies that bar them from attending five of their home state’s top universities and paying heavily discounted in-state tuition rates at its others.

The students — all members of Atlanta-based Freedom University, a private, tuition-free school that helps people without legal status prepare for higher education — shared their emotional stories at Smith College Thursday evening. Despite a surprisingly heavy snowfall that blanketed the campus in the afternoon, dozens of Smith students and others filed into an auditorium to hear the Freedom University representatives' harrowing stories about their journeys to the U.S., the sacrifices they have made and relatives who have been deported.

“I was born in Mexico and I don’t know a single thing about that country. I came here when I was 1 ½ years old. All my memories are in Georgia,” said Britney Acevedo, 17, a Roswell High School senior who has been granted a temporary reprieve from deportation, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. “Students in Georgia who are undocumented don’t know about the policies yet, until it’s their turn… to find out that maybe your dreams won’t be accomplished.”

Yoshua Gonzaga, 18, a Lakeside High School graduate from Mexico who also has been granted DACA, said: “We all just want to achieve that goal of getting a diploma and making our parents proud. Most importantly, we just want to contribute to this country.”

Critics of Georgia’s admission and tuition policies say they turn away exceptional students like Britney and Yoshua after state taxpayers invest heavily in their public school education. Supporters say the policies help deter illegal immigration.

Three lawsuits aimed at ending Georgia's policies are now pending in state and federal courts amid a presidential election that has often focused on illegal immigration. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has proposed scrapping the DACA program, ramping up deportations and building a new wall on the southwest border at Mexico's expense. In contrast, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, is campaigning on creating a pathway to citizenship for immigrants without legal status.

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