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Undocumented Students Barred from Public University in Georgia, But for How Long?

President Obama’s new Deferred Action for undocumented or illegal immigrant children is now in effect. On August immigration offices began accepting applications for the new procedure. But, there are many questions that are still up in the air. One that presses on many young adults is “What will this mean for applicants to the University of Georgia?”

In October 2010, the State Board of Regents voted to ban illegal immigrants from attending the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Medical College of Georgia and Georgia College.This was before the Obama Administration created the Deferred Action Program. Now, with this new pathway to residency, it is an open question as to whether those who qualify for deferred action can apply for and be admitted to one of those five institutions.

According to Georgia Public Broadcasting News, in the eyes of Georgia’s Regents Board, deferred action will not change a student’s status from illegal to legal. They report that, “University System of Georgia officials say President Obama’s immigration order in June doesn’t change anything for undocumented students now barred from the state’s top colleges…Board of Regents spokesman John Millsaps says the university ban follows state law. And he says Obama’s order doesn’t change state law. ‘The decision of the administration does not change lawful status in Georgia,” he said in an interview. “You know, whatever the state law is that affects us, then we have to make sure our policies are in compliance with it.'”

But, there are many who say that what Obama did was actual transform those students from “illegal” to “legal.” According to same article, “the ACLU’s Azadeh Shahshahani says the Board of Regents needs to reassess how it treats these students, regardless of the ban.’Individuals granted deferred action should be able to attend all colleges and universities — even the top five — because they are granted deferred action, and because deferred action per federal law is considered lawfully present,’she said.”

There has been no case test on whether the ban applies to this newly created status. To counteract the ban, in 2011 four professors at the University of Georgia created something they call “Freedom University.” They state their mission as “Freedom University is a volunteer-driven organization that provides rigorous, college-level instruction to all academically qualified students regardless of their immigration status. Our faculty are fully committed to providing our students with college courses equivalent to those taught at the state’s most selective universities. We believe that all Georgians have an equal right to a quality education. Separate and unequal access to higher education contravenes this country’s most cherished principles of equality and justice for all.”

But Freedom University cannot confer degrees and is no solution to the real problem of access and disparate treatment to the Georgia University System. Thankfully the ban does not apply to all Georgia colleges and universities. However, undocumented students must pay out of state tuition, even if they graduated from the Georgia high school.

If you are interested in applying for deferred action and wish the help of a lawyer, you can read about what Betts and Associates would do for you here.