High school students staged a mock graduation today at the University of Georgia arch to protest the state policy’s of documenting citizenship of students. Chanting “undocumented, unafraid,” the students expressed dismay at the policy, which they said will lock them out of UGA and other prestigious campuses.
Illegal immigration became a volatile issue in Georgia after it was discovered that Kennesaw State University charged an illegal immigrant in-state tuition in violation of state law. Now, illegal immigrants are barred from any University System of Georgia campus that turned away academically qualified students for the past two years. (The impacted campuses are UGA, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Georgia College & State University and the Medical College of Georgia.)
The State Board of Regents adopted the policy last fall after months of angry debate and legislative posturing over assertions that these students stole spots from those legally here. While officials said campuses are not overwhelmed by thousands of illegal immigrants, the regents adopted the policy to placate legislators and reassure taxpayers that illegal students weren’t taking spots. Those students may attend the system’s other 30 colleges, but must pay out-of-state tuition, which is about three times as expensive.
The AJC reported last week that only one out of the more than 10,000 students granted preliminary acceptance to those five coveted campuses was barred from enrolling because the student is an illegal immigrant. It’s not clear whether illegal immigrants aren’t applying because of the new policy or whether they weren’t attending in the first place.
But the policy has sparked frustration and disappointment in students who have lived in this country most of their lives, but whose parents are not legal citizens. And what’s led to the protest Tuesday in Athens.
According to an account of the protest by the Associated Press:
About 25 young people, most wearing graduation caps and gowns, paraded across a busy intersection in Athens Tuesday and onto the University of Georgia campus to protest a new university system policy on the admission of illegal immigrants.
Several dozen supporters chanted and cheered as the protesters, many of them high school students, walked through the arch onto the university’s main quad, receiving fake diplomas in a mock graduation. Addressing their supporters and the media, a number of them publicly declared their illegal status.
“I want the education after high school because I don’t want to end up a deadbeat,” said 15-year-old Alejandro Galeana. “They’re taking away the education that we have a right to.”
The sophomore at Cedar Shoals High School in Athens was brought to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 2. He doesn’t think it’s fair that if he works hard enough to get the grades to qualify to go to one of the state’s top schools that he should be denied admission because of his immigration status.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog