More than 20 students took to the streets with signs, formed a picket line and chanted, "Up, up with education! Down, down with segregation!" during the monthly Board of Regents meeting.
The group protested what's called Policy 4.1.6, which prohibits undocumented students from attending Georgia's top-tier schools, which includes the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State University.
According to the policy, undocumented students cannot take another qualified - and documented - applicant's spot at one of the top-tier schools. Considering that the colleges and universities lack the capacity to admit even all qualified students, it's safe to say undocumented students won't be accepted.
Kimberly-Ballard Washington, USG legal counsel, says that Georgia law states that undocumented persons cannot receive public benefits. "There's a list that the Attorney General produces every year that says what is a public benefit and in-state tuition is on that list," she said.
Chancellor Hank Huckaby met with the protestors during the board's lunch recess to hear their concerns, including the state law that forces undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition rates, even if they live in Georgia.
With tears in her eyes, student and activist Melissa Padilla said that it's "ridiculous" for her to be told she has "to pay $30,000 out of my pocket" to attend UGA when she lives 20 minutes down the street from the school. She attends Freedom University, a volunteer-run organization in Athens that provides college-level courses to qualified students regardless of their immigration status. Padilla said she feels that the state's policy is "an attack" against undocumented students.
The board is currently brainstorming ways to increase the number of college graduates each year from 53,000 to 80,000 by 2025, or an increase of 3 percent each year. Padilla thinks undocumented students could help the state achieve that goal.
"As long as the laws stay the way they are, the board is not going to act contrary to those laws," Huckaby said. "As bad as the laws may seem to be, we have to follow the law. We are a public institution."
He said that the board has "worked very hard" - and even testified under the uber-conservative Gold Dome - to stop laws that would make it entirely illegal for undocumented students to attend any public college or university. Huckaby told the protesters that he understood the financial burden of paying out-of-state tuition and suggested that "there are many other good schools" that undocumented students can attend. When Padilla asked the chancellor what he would want for his son or daughter, Huckaby said "I wouldn't be so sure that the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech would be my first choice."
Huckaby thinks that Congress must pass immigration legislation before there can be any future progress on reforming policies related to undocumented students' higher education options.
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