Chancellor Hank Huckaby, head of the University System of Georgia, had planned to discuss a controversial policy on undocumented students attending state colleges, but decided against it because of a newly-filed lawsuit on the issue.
Huckaby told undocumented students earlier this year that he would address the policy at the August Board of Regents meeting scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. The rule bans them from Georgia’s top five colleges and forces them to pay out-of-state tuition at the rest.
A group of undocumented students rallied Tuesday against the policy outside the Regents’ headquarters in downtown Atlanta. They say the rule conflicts with a 2012 executive order from President Barack Obama that gives them temporary lawful presence. Several undocumented students signed on as plaintiffs in a lawsuit about the issue, which was filed earlier this month.
Huckaby said that lawsuit changed everything.
“I was going to make some comments about it and now I’m not,” stated Huckaby, who said he cannot address anything that is in litigation.
Former state Senator George Hooks of Americus, however, did comment. He's now a Regent and he says the policy is a compromise because it allows them to attend most state schools. And he says there’s not enough room for them at the top schools.
“The waiting list is forever at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech for a lot of native born Georgians who are from families who for generations have supported our universities and the University System,” he said before the meeting.
The students said the Regents don’t need to change their rules, just uphold them. They said the policy applies to people without lawful presence. The students suing the state are now in the country legally through the Obama initiative known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
“I’m a Georgia resident. I’ve lived here since I was 7 years old,” explained Maria Zavala, a protestor from Powder Springs. “I don’t know why I can’t pay in-state tuition if my parents pay taxes. I mean, now I have DACA – I have legal presence. I don’t see any other reason why I can’t pay in-state tuition.”
Georgia is one of a handful of states with an outright ban on undocumented students attending some colleges. Regents officials said their hands are tied because the issue is a legislative matter.
The state has not yet responded to the lawsuit.