The Georgia Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week in a case over whether certain immigrants can receive in-state tuition at Georgia’s public colleges.
Latino students at the University of North Georgia will watch the proceedings closely as they face the fallout of the court’s decision.
Some Republican lawmakers have pressed the case that undocumented immigrant students would hurt the ability of U.S.-born residents to afford college.
The conflict involves students who have received protection under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Many of these are students were brought to the United States when they were younger without the required legal documents.
DACA students can receive work permits and exemption from deportation.
Diana Paola Vela-Martinez is an immigrant from Mexico who came to the United States at age 4. The Gainesville resident is now a pre-med student at UNG. She said as a DACA recipient, she currently pays about three times more in tuition than if she were to receive in-state status, which would help her family “tremendously.”
“It would open so many more opportunities,” she said.
The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank, came out in support of granting DACA students in-state tuition in a recent report. It said those students will help meet the state’s job market needs going forward and generate about $10 million in annual state tax revenue once they enter the workforce.
Vela-Martinez said she has no doubt that in-state tuition will increase enrollment and admittance to higher education for DACA students.
“I do strongly believe that the justices will allow the case to move forward,” Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said. “The Board of Regents is doing a disservice to education policy in the state and stands in the way of these students being more productive and successful Georgians.”
Though most Republicans have stayed relatively mum on the case, they have been unwilling to allow in-state tuition in the past. Some conservatives have called for banning DACA recipients from receiving driver’s licenses.
State Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville, said he is concerned that undocumented immigrants will receive advantages that they haven’t paid for.
“The biggest part, from what I understand, these would be undocumented immigrants that take money from scholarships,” he said. “I do not think that’s absolutely right.”