On Friday October 16th, 2015, the Supreme Court of Georgia heard oral arguments regarding a case that would allow undocumented students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to pay in-state tuition at Georgia’s pubic universities and colleges. In 2010, The University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents created Policy 4.1.6, which bans students from attending the top five public universities in Georgia, including The University of Georgia and Georgia State University. Undocumented students are also required to pay out-of-state tuition. About 36 students filed a lawsuit with their lawyer, Charles Kuck, arguing that these policies are unconstitutional. Hear direct accounts from two of the students, Yael Hernandez and Maria Carrillo Garcia!
Can you tell us about this court case and what happened in the courtroom on Friday? When do you think they will make a decision?
Maria: We arrived at Ellijay around 8:30 am and slowly people started to arrive. We had a brief press conference at 9:30 and then entered the courtroom. The courtroom was full of spectators, city officials, judges, and students. Our attorney was the first to speak and was constantly questioned by Justice Nahmias. After our lawyer, the BOR (Board of Regents) lawyers went up to speak, and they were constantly questioned by Justice Melton on BOR sovereignty immunity. The session was full of emotions because we could see the different viewpoints of the judges. We could feel the tension from those who opposed the lawsuit. I think it could go either way. I’m very hopeful for the results. Our attorney said we could hear back in December! If the Justices rule in our favor, then Judge Grogan (prior judge) will make a decision. We have a great chance with Judge Grogan because he ruled in our favor except in the BOR sovereign immunity.
Yael: We had a court hearing in Ellijay with the supreme court of Georgia, over the Board of Reagents sovereign immunity. This court hearing was held to determine if we were or weren’t allowed to sue the board of regents over their out of state tuition policy, which requires all DACA holders to pay out of state tuition for college, even though we have lawful presence in the country. The supreme justices seemed empathetic to the situation and asked a lot of questions to both sides. From what I saw they were trying to be neutral about the situation and even asked the Board of Regents lawyer what we could theoretically do to change the current policy. The lawyer of course refused and continued to avoid the question. Overall I think the hearing went well, they told us there would be a ruling made before the end of the year.
How can Georgia’s colleges and universities advocate for this change?
Maria: I think Georgia colleges and universities could advocate for change by giving DACA students a platform and space in each of the colleges. Always have the students in charge because personal stories are more helpful than an ally advocating because, at the end of the day, the ones who struggle are the students. Colleges need to be genuinely supportive
Yael: I think the big colleges in Georgia are already aware of our current situation. Some of them have even written letters of support to the board of regents, but since the state provides them with funding, they can’t do much more. I think by allowing actual DACA and Undocumented students to share their stories at their campus would be a great way to spread the message of what’s going on.
What kind of college education in Georgia have you pursued? What have been some of the biggest rewards and challenges?
Maria: I am pursuing an Education Associate’s degree at Georgia Perimeter College. My ultimate goal is to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Education with an ESOL endorsement from a four-year institution. If in-state tuition passes, then I will go back to get my Master’s degree. I think one of the biggest rewards of pursuing an education here in Georgia is that I became an activist in the process. Activism is rewarding but challenging.
Yael: I’m currently enrolled in a community college because it was the most economic option I had. My current plan is to complete my prerequisite classes in community college and then transfer to a 4-year school to obtain my bachelors in accounting. One of the biggest challenges with college has been paying out of state tuition. I have to pay almost four times as much when compared to my peers who can get in-state tuition. I have also experienced emotional stress, due to the high cost of classes, which keeps me from being a full-time student, it’s made me feel like I’ll never graduate. I do feel I’ve been rewarded by just being able to attend school since I know a lot of people are sometimes unable to, due to their circumstances in life or where they live.
How will Georgia Perimeter College’s merge with Georgia State University affect undocumented students?
Maria: Information about the merge has been minimal. No one is sure about anything. Supposedly, it will not affect us but can that be if GPC is becoming GSU. It is all so mysterious.
Yael: I think the merger is going to make it even harder for undocumented students to pursue higher education in Georgia because it’s going to raise tuition prices.
What sources of support and community have been helpful? For your activism or education?
Maria: I think the support from organizations that are constantly fighting for the immigrant community. Georgia Latino Association for Human Rights has helped Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance by providing guidance.
Yael: I have great friends and have met a lot of great people through organizing who are actively fighting for in-state tuition. I’m current part of an organization called G.U.Y.A (Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance). Who have kept me together and given me a space where I can freely talk about my struggles and what I’m going through not only as a DACA recipient but also as a college student that is struggling to find his place in life.
What advice do you have for immigration activists in other states?
Maria: Do not give up. Problems will exist in the different immigrant groups. Continue to fight for our community!
Yael: I would tell them to keep pushing and not give up because we are standing on the right side of history.
What can people in Georgia or other states do to help?
Maria: People in Georgia or other states can help the organizers by providing their time and support. In our group, we are constantly struggling to find individuals who want to help organize. We organize the best we can without the help of others. At the moment, we are waiting for the court decision. For now, people can follow us on our website to be kept updated. (:
Yael: I think the best thing people can do is to inform themselves. I can’t count how many times I’ve shared my situation with others, and they’ve given me a blank stare back telling me they’ve never heard of this happening. I think by not knowing what’s going around you, you’re allowing others to control the situation for you. Once I explain to people all about my situation they realize how ridiculous the board of regent’s policy is and agree that I have as much right as everyone else to attend college and pay in-state tuition, in a state I’ve called home for most of my life.
Rachel is currently pursuing a PhD in Social Sciences and Comparative Education at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. She has worked closely with undocumented youth activists in several states, the Bhutanese refugee community and LGBT community in Oakland, California. Rachel taught in two public high schools in Okinawa, Japan for two years and has worked in the community college and higher education sector for Bunker Hill Community College, MassBay Community College, Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Achieving the Dream, and Jobs for the Future. She received her Masters in Higher Education from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and her Bachelors in Philosophy from the University of Chicago.
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