In the wake of Georgia's harsh immigration law, HB 87, which requires employers to check the immigration status of potential workers and encourages law enforcement to ask for immigration verification during routine stops, a Georgia Senate committee has now passed a new measure targeting undocumented residents.
The bill, SB 458, would ban non-citizens from attending public colleges in the state, and would make provisions to HB 87. The bill now moves to the full Senate.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sen. Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville), the sponsor of SB 458, said that college slots are being taken away from U.S. citizens and given to undocumented immigrants who would not be able to work in the country legally after graduation.
“Our colleges and universities are for those that are U.S. citizens and are here legally,” Loudermilk said.
Loudermilk and other supporters of the bill believe that the current University System of Georgia is a violation of federal law, and that attending a public university is a privilege to be granted only to citizens. However, federal law does not ban undocumented immigrants from attending public colleges, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It gives states the power to make the decision independent of the federal government.
Hank Huckaby, University System chancellor, defended the current situation, stating that undocumented students do not receive the benefit of in-state tuition, supported by taxpayer dollars. Instead they are charged out-of-state tuition, which is three-times more expensive. Huckaby believes the current system works well and should remain in place.
Out of 318,000 students in the University System, which includes the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State, Georgia Health Sciences and Georgia College & State universities, only about 300 are undocumented, according to Huckaby, a decrease from about 500 last year.
Jerry Gonazalez, the executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, spoke out against the bill, noting that many states are working to make college more accessible to non-citizens.
President Barack Obama's DREAM Act proposal would allow conditional, permanent residency to undocumented residents who meet certain criteria, such as attending a four-year college for at least two years or serving two years in the military. Opponents of the bill believe that it encourages and rewards undocumented immigration.