2/15 – AJC – Bill to bar illegal immigrants in public colleges clears panel | ajc.com

Bill to bar illegal immigrants in public colleges clears panel  | ajc.com

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Georgia Politics 6:22 p.m. Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Illegal immigrants would no longer be able to attend any Georgia public college under a bill the House Higher Education Committee passed Tuesday.

Such students currently can enroll, provided they pay out-of-state tuition. But House Bill 59 would bar these students from attending any of the 35 institutions in the University System of Georgia or the 26 in the Technical College System of Georgia.Rep. Tom Rice, R-Norcross, who wrote the bill, said it would guarantee illegal immigrants don’t take seats away from students who are legally in the country. If it becomes a law, and there are several more steps before that would happen, students’ names would be run through a federal database — Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlement (SAVE) — to make sure they have a legal presence in this country.

“I believe that this bill is needed,” Rice said. “There’s no way of knowing … whose spot an illegal person may be taking. That’s the issue. Should somebody really be here to take the spot of somebody who is here legally?”

Following the vote, some of the approximately 100 people who attended the hearing booed and hissed. They chanted “roll call” because the vote was conducted by members saying “yay” or “nay.”

Georgia State University student Roberto Gutierrez urged the committee not to pass the bill, saying illegal immigrants earn admission and are not taking anyone’s seats.

“I just ask for opportunity to believe in America, to be better for myself and for the country and to give back some of the opportunities that to some extent I was able to have,” said Gutierrez, who is in the country legally. “Don’t kill my dream.”

South Carolina is currently the only state to bar illegal immigrants from public colleges, although lawmakers in Virginia are considering a similar ban. Arizona’s immigration law, which other states are using as a model, allows illegal immigrants to attend, provided they pay out-of-state tuition rates.

To become law, HB 59 still must be approved by the full House and proceed through the state Senate, where it must pass again. Gov. Nathan Deal would then have to sign it into law.

Chancellor Erroll Davis questioned the bill, considering actions the State Board of Regents took in October.

“First, just to clarify the current situation, our capacity is not being stressed by thousands of illegal students,” Davis said. “We believe that we have already taken the necessary actions to ensure that Georgia taxpayers are protected and, further, that the children of taxpaying Georgians are not displaced by undocumented students.”

Of the 310,361 students who were enrolled in the University System this past fall, 501 were classified as “undocumented” and paying out-of-state tuition, according to a system audit. The students were classified this way because they did not provide documentation of their citizenship status. They may or may not have lawful presence in this country.

Effective next fall, illegal immigrants will be barred from the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Georgia College & State University and the Medical College of Georgia because these campuses have rejected academically qualified applicants for the past two academic years because of space or other issues. These campuses enrolled 29 undocumented students this past fall, Davis said.

The regents adopted other new rules, including requiring all campuses to verify the “lawful presence” of admitted students seeking in-state tuition.

Georgia has long debated illegal immigration and higher education, but the issue resurfaced last spring following the arrest of an illegal immigrant attending Kennesaw State University. College officials disclosed they had charged the student, Jessica Colotl, in-state tuition. Colotl, who was brought to this country from Mexico as a child, was later charged out-of-state tuition.

Federal law does not bar illegal immigrants from attending public colleges, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In a 2008 letter, its most recent federal guideline on the issue, the agency wrote, “individual states must decide for themselves whether or not to admit illegal aliens into their public post-secondary institutions.”

Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, said the regents’ actions were a start but fail to address concerns at all campuses. He told a story about a soldier who couldn’t get into classes at Gainesville State College and of a student who could only register for two classes at Georgia Gwinnett College just before the semester started because other courses were full.

“Should legal citizens be standing behind the line of people who are not here legally?” he asked.

Davis said there are thousands of students who can’t get particular classes, but because of a lack of resources to meet fast-growing enrollment.

He warned the ban could harm the state’s reputation.

“Higher education is a very competitive, reputation-driven business,” Davis said. “The University System of Georgia is one of the more highly regarded systems in the nation. … People now want to come here.”

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