University System of Georgia officials say President Obama’s immigration order in June doesn't change anything for undocumented students now barred from the state’s top colleges. But some immigration attorneys disagree.
Pres. Obama’s order will allow some young people to receive deferred immigration status. If granted, that will spare them from deportation, and allow them to apply for work permits and drivers’ licenses.
Some immigration experts say it should also open the doors of the University of Georgia and four other schools currently off-limits to them.
Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union in Atlanta have continued to press university officials to overturn the ban since the order was issued. But the ACLU's Azadeh Shahshahani says the Board of Regents needs to reassess how it treats these students, regardless of the ban.
“Individuals granted deferred action should be able to attend all colleges and universities -- even the top five -- because they are granted deferred action, and because deferred action per federal law is considered lawfully present,” she said.
That means, she added, that “even under the ban, the individuals granted deferred action should be able to attend Georgia universities and colleges." That's because they will be legal under federal law.
Board of Regents spokesman John Millsaps says the university ban follows state law. And he says Obama’s order doesn’t change state law.
"The decision of the administration does not change lawful status in Georgia," he said in an interview. "You know, whatever the state law is that affects us, then we have to make sure our policies are in compliance with it.”
The system’s chancellor, Hank Huckaby, opposed a state bill this year that would have expanded the ban to all state public institutions. It failed.
UGA spokesman Tom Jackson says the Obama order and the university ban have not been issues for the university.
"Before the ban was adopted, an inventory here determined we had only two such students. So the effect, other than to those two individuals, has been relatively nil," he said.
He added, "Now the faculty of the University of Georgia, the faculty senate, actually called the University Council, adopted a resolution opposing the state ban, and that's an opinion expressed by that body and not an opinion of the administration necessarily."
Jackson said even if the ban were overturned, he wouldn't expect a flood of undocumented students at UGA since there were so few before the ban.
Illegal immigrants can attend other public colleges in Georgia if they pay out-of-state tuition rates.
There are about 400,000 undocumented residents in Georgia, including many students who were brought here illegally as children.