Georgians are still debating the rights of illegal immigrants in public colleges, and the board that governs the state’s universities is listening.
The Board of Regents meets this week for the first time since the controversy surrounding Jessica Colotl, an undocumented student at Kennesaw State University, provoked discussions across the nation.
On Wednesday, Vice Chancellor Burns Newsome of Legal Affairs will present the current law to the regents, discuss the history of it and explain how universities in the system verify residency.
“We’re expecting an outcome could be the chairman will appoint a committee to be tasked with looking at the larger universe of students in terms of verifying residency,” said spokesman John Millsaps on Tuesday. “The question is to look at our processes to see if we’re charging everyone the correct tuition. For in-state tuition, are you a legal Georgia resident?”
No state or federal law bars illegal immigrants from attending higher education schools, but Georgia allows the students to attend as long as they pay out-of-state tuition. Some states — South Carolina included — prohibit illegal immigrants from attending public colleges. Texas and 10 other states allow them to pay in-state tuition.
“If the students are undocumented, they should be paying out-of-state tuition, and if they’re legal U.S. residents but not Georgia residents, they should be paying out-of-state tuition,” Millsaps said. “Then the board will actually go into executive session to get a report on the specific student at Kennesaw.”
Colotl’s case hits controversy where the money line is drawn.
The state passed an expansive immigration law in 2006, effective July 2007, which demanded that universities not provide illegal immigrants with benefits, which includes in-state tuition.
Colotl, a Mexico native who came to the U.S. when she was 10, was stopped for a traffic violation in March, and immigration authorities began the deportation process. As a graduate of a public high school in Georgia, Colotl was given in-state tuition to KSU and was admitted before the law changed in 2007. KSU President Daniel Papp intervened on her behalf and asked for a one-year reprieve to complete the degree. KSU administrators were not aware of her immigration status until the arrest but have agreed that she will be charged out-of-state tuition.
Any move by the regents won’t affect Northeast Georgia colleges, officials said.
North Georgia College & State University follows University System of Georgia policies and determines student citizenship and state residency based on admission applications, said Kate Maine, director of public relations.
“Of course, they must attest that the information is accurate and true at the time of application,” she said Tuesday. “We have not had any challenges to that policy.”
Gainesville State College used to give presidential waivers to a handful of undocumented students at Gainesville and Hall County high schools for in-state tuition if they were “exceptionally good students,” said President Martha Nesbitt.
However, waivers were “cut off completely” when the immigration law changed in the state.
“We knew it could be a challenge and monitored it very carefully,” Nesbitt said. “To be honest, I don’t think much of it goes on, but it takes just one high profile case to spark discussion.”