The Wall Street Journal reports that the “titans” of Silicon Valley are coming to the aid of undocumented students who want to attend college in the United States, a dream that is being derailed by state legislatures intent on limiting access to their public colleges, including those in Georgia.
On Monday, the state Senate approved a bill that would bar illegal immigrants from attending all of Georgia’s 60 public colleges, the 35 colleges in the University System of Georgia and the 25 in Technical College System of Georgia.
If Senate Bill 458 becomes law, Georgia would join Alabama and South Carolina in barring undocumented students from its public college classrooms.
According to the AJC, Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, said his bill guarantees that taxpayer-supported colleges only serve citizens and those who are in the country lawfully. He maintains that said it’s wrong for illegal immigrants to take seats at these schools since they can’t legally work in the country after graduation.
But the Wall Street Journal article says a powerful, influential and wealthy group of innovation leaders — Jeff Hawkins, inventor of the Palm Pilot; and the family foundations of Andrew Grove, co-founder of Intel Corp., Mark Leslie, founder of the former Veritas Software Corp., and Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs — disagree with locking such students out of higher education.
The Silicon Valley money is part of a broader response by individuals and states to Congress, which hasn’t passed the Dream Act. That federal legislation would offer a path to legalization for illegal immigrants who graduate from a U.S. high school and attend college or join the military. “We think Congress’s inaction…is devastating for these students and tragic for the country,” said Ms. Powell Jobs, who was one of the first in the tech community to champion the Dream Act by lobbying her congresswoman and writing an op-ed piece supporting the legislation.
The focus of the Silicon Valley philanthropists is Educators for Fair Consideration, or E4FC, a nonprofit that gives scholarships, career advice and legal services to students brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
Companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants can face civil and criminal penalties. Among other ideas, the Silicon Valley donors are studying the possibility of using unpaid internships as way for students to come to the attention of employers who might later sponsor them for a legal work visa. After helping a few dozen students through college with small donations, the San Francisco-based organization expanded with money from the tech leaders. It now has enlisted immigration attorneys to offer legal advice to hundreds of undocumented students.
“We used to think, ‘Let’s just get them through college’” with scholarships, said Katharine Gin, a teacher who founded E4FC along with a college counselor. “We thought the federal Dream Act would pass and we would be helping these students in the interim period only.”
Several of the Silicon Valley supporters became aware of the issue close up: Mr. Hawkins got to know an undocumented student at his daughters’ high school. Liz Simons, daughter of the founder of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, mentored an undocumented honor student in high school who was struggling to raise funds for college because of his illegal status. Seth Leslie, son of Veritas’s founder, had encountered undocumented students in his work as a schoolteacher and principal. The money involved is relatively small: The tech philanthropists and others gave hundreds of thousands dollars in the last year to the group, whose 2012 operating budget is $600,000.
California, Illinois and New York in recent months passed bills that enable undocumented students to receive financial aid for college. Thirteen states allow illegal immigrants who reside in their borders to pay in-state fee.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog