Don Balfour picked up the phone and said the first thing that you would expect when a Georgia state senator gets a phone call from a sportswriter.
“I don’t normally talk to sportswriters,” he said.
To which I responded that I don’t normally talk to politicians, unless you count commissioners, owners, general managers, coaches, some athletes, their agents, public-relations directors … on second thought, never mind.
Sports and politics overlapped this week. Chester Brown, a 6-foot-5, 340-pound mountain of a teenager, was forced to withdraw his commitment to the Georgia football team because of an immigration issue.
This is where things get kind of screwy. Brown is the son of Samoan immigrants. His mother says Brown was born in the United States, not Samoa, and is a citizen, but the family apparently doesn’t have the proper documentation to prove it. This precludes him from accepting a scholarship from UGA, given the Board of Regents’ tough immigration policy that was passed in July 2011 in the wake of a case involving a Kennesaw State student, Jessica Colotl (who erroneously received in-state tuition, despite being an illegal immigrant).
It’s not my intention to turn this into a column on the illegal-immigration problem in the United States, but I think we can all agree that when the Board of Regents declared that undocumented students and illegal immigrants can’t take away seats from academically qualified Georgia students, nobody figured it would affect the Georgia football team.
Immigration policies are intended to keep the nation safe and protect taxpayers, not wreck pass protection against the Alabama defense.
Balfour is one of the strongest proponents of the Board of Regents’ immigration policy. He acknowledged, “Never in a million years did any of us think this would affect a football team.”
But this case doesn’t cause him to rethink things. Another supporter of the policy, Georgia alum and Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, agrees.
“You can’t get into the business of making laws tailored to individuals,” Ehrhart said. “I went to school at Georgia. I graduated from there in 1980. My blood is red and black. I love going to football games. But does it make me not want to enact certain [policies]? No.”
So he’ll tell that to the fans who are sitting next to him in Sanford Stadium?
“Oh yeah, thanks a lot. Am I going to wear a T-shirt [advertising it]? No. There’s no self-preservation in that.”
Brown is an unfortunate byproduct of the illegal-immigrant issue. It’s hard not to feel for the kid. He couldn’t control where he was born or whom he was born to.
He went to school in Hinesville after relocating with his family from Long Beach, Calif., in 2004. He accumulated a 3.2 grade-point average and obviously has excelled on the football field. When he showed up at Georgia’s “Dawg Night,” a summer prospect camp, he looked like manna from heaven for a program with offensive line problems.
Brown was offered a scholarship on the spot. Brown gave his commitment, and he was so excited that he had the date, July 15, 2011, tattooed on his arm.
But now there’s some question where he’s from and whether he can prove it. Ironically, Balfour said, it would be easy for Brown to get into UGA if he wasn’t a U.S. citizen because then he would need only apply for a student visa. His claim of being a U.S. citizen mandates he have proper documentation. For unknown reasons, that has not been supplied by the family. (Brown can still attend a school in a state with less-restrictive policies and is looking at Syracuse, Central Florida and Tulane.)
Here’s what shouldn’t be lost in all of this: A law is a law (or in this case, a policy is a policy). Any Georgia fan, conservative or liberal, who has long supported tougher immigration laws can’t suddenly claim their beloved Bulldogs are being wronged.
“I definitely feel bad for the kid,” Balfour said. “I hate that he’s caught in the middle of this.”
Then he added, tongue-in-cheek, the obligatory southern college football conspiracy theory.
“I think this policy must’ve been started by someone from Georgia Tech,” he joked.
By Jeff Schultz