Georgia Bans Illegal Immigrants at Top State Universities

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The governing body for Georgia’s state colleges and universities banned illegal immigrants from attending the most selective state schools, as several other states debate whether such students should be allowed to attend public  college and, if they are, should they receive in-state tuition benefits.

The actions come as President Barack Obama is pressing for a huge increase in the number of Americans with college educations to regain world status.

Wednesday’s 14-2 vote by the Georgia Board of Regents, which may be challenged in court,  means that beginning next fall, illegal immigrants cannot attend the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, the Medical College of Georgia, Georgia State University or Georgia College & State University.

A report presented to the board shows there currently are 501 undocumented students among the more than 310,000 attending Georgia’s public colleges. Just 29 illegal immigrants attend the five top schools. All undocumented students pay out-of-state tuition.

But state lawmakers are poised to introduce a bill to extend the limited ban to all state public colleges and universities, regardless of space constraints.

Opponents of the decision say it is not in the best interests of Georgia’s children.

“These are students who have come here at a young age, who have been enrolled in schools in Georgia,” said Laura Vazquez, the immigration legislative analyst at Latino civil rights group National Council of La Raza. “We can’t afford to lose another generation of young people who are going to help compete in the global economy.”

But backers of tough immigration reforms say that states should have such bans to guarantee spots to qualified U.S. citizens who might otherwise be rejected. “In the case of Georgia, there are a finite number of seats at state universities, and quite legitimately they should go to people who have a right to be in the country in the first place,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which advocates tough immigration enforcement.

FAIR also supports extending such bans to all state schools – including community colleges with open admission – because the money spent on the immigrants “still does diminish and detract from the education that others are going to receive. Students who are in the country illegally ought to return to their countries and apply on a student visa,” Mehlman said.

Meanwhile, the California State Supreme Court this month heard a case on whether the state’s significantly larger population of undocumented immigrants at state colleges – roughly 25,000 – can receive in-state tuition benefits providing a discount of up to $19,000 a year compared to out-of-state tuition. The proposal has raised concerns, even in the usually liberal-leaning California, due to the state’s severe budget shortfalls.

Currently 10 states give illegal immigrants in-state tuition benefits for college if they have attended a U.S. high school at least three years: California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Washington.

Last spring the North Carolina Community College Board voted to allow illegal immigrant students at the state’s 58 community colleges, though they would still pay out-of-state tuition and are subject to removal from a class if it is full and a legal resident wants to enroll.