Immigrants without legal status sue for access to Georgia universities

Three Georgians who have received a special reprieve from deportation are suing the University System of Georgia over its policy of barring them from attending five of the state’s top universities.

Filed Friday, their federal lawsuit says Georgia’s policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and is preempted by federal law. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and a local law firm — Horsley Begnaud — filed the case.

“The defendants’ policy excludes some of Georgia’s best and brightest students from its top schools,” Burth López, a MALDEF staff attorney, said in a prepared statement. “Not only is the policy contrary to the very fairness embedded in our constitutional system, but it ultimately hurts Georgia by diminishing the overall quality of its classrooms.”

A spokesman for the university system declined to comment.

The case applies to immigrants who have been accepted into the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The program grants temporary deportation deferrals and work permits to immigrants who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children.

Georgia’s policy prevents DACA recipients from attending any institution that has not enrolled all of its academically qualified applicants for the previous two years. That prohibition now applies to the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Augusta, Georgia State, and Georgia College and State universities.

The university system is facing two other lawsuits – including one filed by MALDEF and Horsley Begnaud – for barring DACA recipients from paying in-state tuition, which is about three times lower than the out-of-state rate.

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