Georgia’s top university official asked lawmakers Tuesday to table a controversial bill. It would bar illegal immigrants from attending any of the state’s 35 public colleges and universities. The bill would affect about 300 students, or one tenth of one percent of students enrolled in the University System of Georgia.
The bill would expand a University System policy that already bars illegal immigrants from the state’s five most selective schools. Those schools have turned away applicants in recent years.
Supporters say illegal immigrants shouldn’t have access to public education benefits and they shouldn’t take classroom slots away from legal residents.
But at a hearing at the State Capitol, University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby says current policy keeps that from happening.
“This policy assures undocumented students do not receive a public benefit since they must pay out of state tuition, and that no undocumented student will be taking away a seat in a class away from a documented student since our selective institutions are not allowed to admit any undocumented students,” he told lawmakers.
He also said the policy is working because last year, there were 500 undocumented students in the University System. Now there are about 300, out of 318,000 students enrolled.
Huckaby also said Georgia benefits from educating illegal immigrants. And he said most states do not bar all illegal immigrants. Plus, they pay at least three times the normal tuition to attend. That means, their tuition dollars fully pay for the services the university provides.
The committee room was backed, mostly with people who oppose the bill. Legislators took a hand count vote of who was for or against the bill, and only a few hands shot up in support.
Several teachers testified at the hearing, saying the students are here through no fault of their own and shouldn’t be penalized for wanting an education.
"It's a slap in the face to them," said Matt Hicks, a teacher from Clarke County.
One undocumented student, Keish Kim of Roswell, said she was accepted to the state’s top five colleges but couldn’t afford out of state tuition.
“I’m proud to say my parents are taxpayers,” the 20-year-old said.
She said she graduated from high school in 2009, and has struggled during the past two years away from school with depression.
“I was a very hard-working student and I really enjoy and love learning,” she said, fighting back tears.
But the bill’s supporters say taxpayers subsidize state colleges for legal residents only.
Immigration enforcement advocate D.A. King said it was hard to believe legislators were debating whether to pass a bill that would outlaw something that’s already illegal.