Society

Georgia Supreme Court Denies In-State Tuition To Undocumented Immigrants

| by Kathryn Schroeder
Lawsuit plaintiffs with their attorneyLawsuit plaintiffs with their attorney

The Georgia Supreme Court rejected an appeal that would allow young undocumented immigrants to pay lower in-state tuition fees at the state’s public colleges and universities.

The 39 plaintiffs are all in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program set-up by the Obama administration, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes. Under the program, immigrants who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children avert deportation and are granted work permits, so long as they do not have felony convictions and are enrolled in school.

The plaintiffs sued the Georgia Board of Regents with the intent to gain access to in-state tuition rates, even though they are not U.S. citizens. The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision that the Board of Regents is protected under sovereign immunity, a legal doctrine which protects state agencies from being sued.

Judge Harold Melton did tell the plaintiffs another option is available.

“Our decision today does not mean that citizens aggrieved by the unlawful conduct of public officers are without recourse,” Melton wrote in his ruling. “It means only that they must seek relief against such officers in their individual capacities.”

The plaintiff’s attorney, Charles Kuck, said he will file new lawsuits naming individual Regents, as well as file suit in federal court.

“Why are we depriving them of an education? Why are they (being deprived) of the ability to make more money to pay higher taxes in the state of Georgia?” Kuck said. “This literally makes no sense. And there is nobody at the Board of Regents who can tell you how this makes any sense.”

While the plaintiffs may attend most Georgia public colleges, they are not eligible for federal financial aid and many have said they cannot afford the higher out-of-state tuition rates.

The difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates is substantial. The University of Georgia at Perimeter charges $1,363 to a full-time student who resides in Georgia. An out-of-state student pays $5,160 to attend the college full-time — nearly four times more than a state resident.

The Board of Regents fully defends its in-state tuition policy.

“Our policy was adopted several years ago to mirror a new state law,” a statement from the board said. “[That law required public colleges and universities] to ensure that only students who could demonstrate lawful presence were eligible for certain benefits, including in-state tuition. That law remains in effect, and, therefore, so will our policy.”

Georgia is not alone in its denial of in-state tuition rates to unauthorized immigrants; Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Missouri, and South Carolina all have the same policy, according to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL).

“We are not going to stop fighting,” plaintiff Ivan Morales, 21, who works as a soccer coach and waits tables to pay his tuition, said, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are going to keep going with this legal battle.”

There are 20 states that offer in-state tuition rates to students who are considered to have unauthorized immigrant status, the NCSL notes. In California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington, it is granted from state legislation. The University of Hawaii Board of Regents, University of Michigan Board of Regents, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, and Rhode Island’s Board of Governors for Higher Education have policies in place to offer in-state tuition rates to unauthorized immigrant students.

Sources: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, National Conference of State Legislators / Photo credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constituton

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