Students protest regents’ ban on illegal immigrants

Students brought to this country illegally have again challenged a state Board of Regents policy that bars them from attending Georgia’s most competitive public colleges.

About 200 people participated in a rally at the Capitol Wednesday and students plan to file a lawsuit as soon as Thursday.

The ban, which began in fall 2011, prohibits illegal immigrants from attending colleges that turned away academically qualified students for the previous two years. The rule affects the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Georgia Regents University and Georgia College & State University.

Illegal immigrants may attend other colleges in the University System of Georgia, but they must pay the higher out-of-state tuition rates even if they graduated from a Georgia high school.

Affected students and an immigration attorney called on the regents to make “deferred action” students eligible for in-state tuition and admission to the prohibited institutions.

The federal deferred action program allows illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work without threat of deportation. To be eligible, they must have arrived in the U.S. before they were 16; enrolled in or have graduated from high school, served in the military or earned a GED; have no felony convictions; and have lived in the country for at least five years.

Attorney Charles Kuck said he will file the lawsuit on behalf of deferred action students.

“These students have put their lives on hold and can no longer wait,” Kuck said. “These kids are tired of being political pawns.”

Spokesman John Millsaps said the regents, as a policy, do not comment on pending litigation.

Students who receive deferred action are not eligible for federal financial aid. Some national observers have said the students would not be eligible for in-state tuition unless states accept deferred action status in place of legal residency as a qualification for taxpayer-supported rates.

The regents repeatedly have refused to rescind the policy. The rule has received support from some Georgia lawmakers. The Legislature has debated bills that would bar illegal immigrants from all public colleges.