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Thursday, November 18, 2010 - 6:00am

Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Ban Illegal Immigrants at State Public Colleges

A Republican state lawmaker introduced legislation Wednesday that would ban all Georgia's public colleges and universities from accepting illegal immigrants.

The Board of Regents last month adopted a policy under which the university system's five most competitive schools are effectively barred from accepting illegal immigrant applicants beginning in fall 2011.

The legislation prefiled Wednesday by state Rep. Tom Rice would prohibit all of the university system's 35 schools from admitting illegal immigrants. "I don't think the regents went far enough," the Norcross Republican said. Rice's legislation will be taken up when state legislators reconvene in January. Immigration is expected to be a hot topic at the state Capitol when lawmakers return.

An emboldened Republican majority has pledged to make the issue a priority. It's widely expected that legislators will introduce a bill similar to the tough anti-illegal immigration law adopted in Arizona.

Rice's bill came on the same day a joint legislative committee held a hearing on illegal immigration.

The committee, made up of 14 Republican lawmakers, heard from a number of scheduled speakers, including representatives from the Board of Regents, before opening the floor to public comments.

Georgia taxpayers shouldn't have to subsidize the education of illegal immigrants, said Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen. For that reason, he opposes the regents' policy that allows illegal immigrants to attend state schools if they pay out-of-state tuition, he said.

"It's to the point where, if that board is going to sit there and do that, I've got to question whether they are worthy to be on the Board of Regents," he said. Wednesday's meeting got contentious at times, especially during the public comments section. After several instances of outbursts or applauding from members of the public, committee Chairman Rep. Matt Ramsey of Peachtree City admonished the crowd to be quiet, saying Capitol police officers would remove anyone who disrupted the meeting.

Georgia's public colleges have become a focus in the illegal immigration debate following a high-profile case involving an undocumented immigrant and Kennesaw State University student who was nearly deported after a traffic arrest in March.

Under new policies adopted by the regents last month, to take effect with the fall 2011 semester, University System of Georgia schools that have rejected any academically qualified applicants in the two most recent academic years will be barred from accepting illegal immigrant applicants.

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.