Illegal immigrants will be denied admission to public colleges in Georgia that have to turn away applicants who are academically qualified, legal residents of the state, under a policy adopted on Wednesday by the state's Board of Regents.
In practice, few immigrants and institutions will be affected by the change. But the policy responds to a recent flurry of political debate over immigration in the state and concerns voiced by some Georgia residents and lawmakers that illegal immigrants were taking seats away from qualified legal residents seeking access to the state's most-selective colleges.
The ban, which is set to take effect next fall, makes Georgia only the second state to prohibit the admission of illegal immigrants to public four-year institutions. South Carolina bans such students from all of its public colleges, and Alabama prevents them from enrolling in its two-year institutions.
In Georgia a total of 27 undocumented students were enrolled this fall at the five colleges that currently fall under the new admissions ban, according to the Board of Regents. The five institutions are Georgia College & State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, the Medical College of Georgia, and the University of Georgia.
The colleges affected by the ban could change from year to year as their selectivity changes. The admissions policy states that it applies each year to public colleges that, in the two most recent academic years, did not admit all academically qualified applicants.
Tougher Scrutiny of Residency
Across the 35 colleges of the University System of Georgia, 501 students are undocumented, less than 0.2 percent of the system's 310,000 students, according to a report presented to the regents on Wednesday. All of those undocumented students are paying out-of-state tuition, as required by Georgia law.
The admissions change was adopted along with other new requirements designed to make sure Georgia's colleges are properly classifying students, and identifying those who are illegal immigrants, for tuition purposes. The Board of Regents had appointed a committee to examine its colleges' methods of verifying students' immigration status after a Kennesaw State University student, stopped by police for a traffic violation, was discovered to be in the United States illegally. The student had been paying in-state tuition instead of the higher out-of-state rate.
Georgia is one of four states that explicitly prohibit illegal immigrants from paying in-state tuition. Ten states have policies that make some of those students eligible for in-state rates, typically if they have lived in the state for a certain period of time and graduated from one of its high schools.
The Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union had urged the regents to vote against the admissions ban, which also prompted some students and others to protest outside the regents' meeting. But others have argued the policy doesn't go far enough, including some state lawmakers who have vowed to push legislation that would extend the ban on admitting illegal immigrants to all public colleges.