Closing college to the undocumented

October 18, 2010

ATLANTA, Ga.--October 12, 2010, will go down as a shameful chapter in Georgia history. That is day the Georgia Board of Regents voted unanimously to effectively ban undocumented students from access to higher education in our public universities.

A recent study done of enrollment in several Georgia universities indicated there are around 500 current students without documentation of citizenship. These students are forced to pay excessive out-of-state tuition.

But this cash cow is not enough for the Board of Regents. They ruled that if there is a single "academically qualified" native-born student that is denied acceptance to one of the five major schools that constitute the University of Georgia, no undocumented students shall be allowed to enroll. This makes Georgia the third state to pass such legislation, joining North Carolina and South Carolina.

This ruling comes as part of a larger wave of anti-immigrant legislation being considered around the country. From Arizona's racist SB 1070 to the proposed immigrant-scapegoating bill in Nebraska, the right wing is trying to use immigrant bashing as a political tool.

Sadly, the Democratic Party is deeply complicit in the shift in the political terrain on this issue--actively spearheading various anti-immigrant policies including increasing deportations, boarder enforcement and collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration agencies.

Here in Georgia, the political landscape is even bleaker. Both the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates have said they would pass legislation like Arizona's SB10170 when they take office in January. Democrat Roy Barnes had only one reservation; "I don't want us to pay the cost--that is a federal government cost, if it is a state crime, then you have to house them."

Republican Nathan Deal is much more straightforward in his anti-immigrant sympathies, saying, "There are over 7,000 volunteers in the Minutemen organization, and their help has been productive and good."

With this as the backdrop of the debate, there is little wonder that the Board of Regents was not to be outdone.

Gina Perez, a member of the local immigrant rights coalition, the Georgia Dreamers, explained, "We are angry and frustrated, because education should be available to ALL, no matter if you have a nine-digit number or not. We must let our voices be heard about our discontent. We can't wait any longer because we believe this is just the beginning of nasty legislation to come."

Social justice organizations in Georgia are gearing up for the fight. At recent meetings, organizers have pointed out the parallels between the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the current struggle for justice and a decent life for immigrants.

In both cases, bigotry reigned in the South--but activists are hopeful that now, as before, resistance will eventually win equality.

As Eva Cardenas, another Georgia "Dreamer," said, "Education and the access for public higher education is a basic human right that must be protected by all of us. We, the youth and students, must stand up and reclaim what is rightfully ours as human beings."

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