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Georgia Regents Approve Restrictions for Undocumented Students

ATLANTA – The state Board of Regents voted Wednesday to tighten policies governing illegal immigrant applicants to Georgia colleges and universities, acting on complaints that the university system has been swamped by undocumented students.

The regents approved the stricter policy over the protests of a coalition of immigrant rights activists urging that it be rejected.

Under the new policies, to take effect with the fall 2011 semester, University System of Georgia schools will be barred from accepting undocumented immigrant applicants if the school has rejected any academically qualified applicants in the two most recent academic years.

That includes five Georgia colleges and universities: the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Medical College of Georgia, and Georgia College & State University. 

The regents voted on four recommended new policies at their meeting Wednesday after a committee investigated complaints that Georgia taxpayers were subsidizing the education of undocumented students through in-state tuition and that undocumented students were taking seats from academically qualified Georgians. There was little discussion and little opposition to the recommendations.

That committee reported that, out of a preliminary fall 2010 student enrollment of 310,361 students, 501 are in the country illegally or have incomplete documentation or 182 new students and 319 returning students. All are paying out-of-state tuition.

Under the new rules, applicants must also state on the application whether they are entitled, if admitted, to pay in-state tuition. Even before the vote, undocumented immigrants, even those who reside in Georgia, were not eligible for in-state tuition.

Each university system institution would have to verify the legal presence in the United States of every person who is admitted and applies for in-state tuition, for example by using federal databases.

Language will be prominently displayed on applications for admission stating that the applicant understands that any false statement on the application or attached documents could result in a fine of not more than $1,000, a prison sentence of one to five years and dismissal from the school.

The board was forced to address the issue of undocumented immigrant students in Georgia after a high-profile case involving a Kennesaw State University student who was nearly deported after an arrest in March.

Jessica Colotl was arrested after a traffic stop for driving without a license. When Cobb County authorities determined she was in the country illegally, they turned her over to immigration authorities. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed to defer action on her case for a year, allowing her to complete her classes.

A coalition of immigrant rights and civil liberties groups sent a letter Tuesday and held a news conference just before the regents’ meeting Wednesday urging the regents to reject the proposal.

The activists argued that academically qualified undocumented immigrant students should not be barred from attending some of the state’s top schools and that federal databases used to check immigration status are error-prone.

Many of the students are brought to the U.S. by their parents as young children and have grown up here, said Azadeh Shahshahani of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. It is a “matter of fundamental fairness” to allow these undocumented immigrant students to attend these schools, she said.

Shahshahani said she was extremely disappointed by the vote.

“We’re going to actively monitor the situation and investigate whether there are ways to challenge this proposition that was voted on today,” she said.

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