Ga. Bars Illegal Immigrants From Some Colleges

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Education officials in Georgia voted Wednesday to bar illegal immigrants from attending the state's five most selective public colleges. It's the second state to do so, after South Carolina. Immigrant rights groups have threatened to challenge the decision in court.


Georgia has banned undocumented students from attending some of its top public colleges and universities. The decision, in a vote yesterday, follows similar moves in two other states, as NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.

KATHY LOHR: Georgia's board of regents decided to ban illegal immigrants from attending the five most selective public colleges in the state. It says it's reacting to the public perception that illegal immigrants are flooding the university system.

Its own study found that out of 310,000 students enrolled in all the state's colleges, about 500 are classified as undocumented. John Millsaps is a spokesman for the board.

JOHN MILLSAPS: And even though the numbers are small, the regents' action to deny admission to institutions where we turn away academically qualified students isn't designed to address the concern that an undocumented student is taking the seat of a qualified Georgia resident.

LOHR: Federal law makes it illegal for states to provide in-state tuition to undocumented students. But about 10 states have passed laws saying they can provide in-state tuition to certain students who've been in the country for years and have no criminal record.

Georgia joins two other states that are going in the opposite direction. Last year, South Carolina passed a law saying it will not admit undocumented students to any college. Alabama won't let illegal immigrants enroll in two-year colleges, and now Georgia joins the fray.

TERRY HARTLE: It's not an accident that we're talking about Georgia and South Carolina and Alabama, states with very conservative political cultures and a strong anti-immigration bias.

LOHR: Terry Hartle is with the American Council on Education, a trade group which represents about 2,000 public and private colleges and universities nationwide.

HARTLE: This is not - should not be a major policy controversy in most states. It's just that it's become wrapped up as part of a very highly charged political environment.

LOHR: In Georgia, the new regulations come after a debate over a student who was arrested last spring and found to be an illegal immigrant. She was attending a state college and paying in-state tuition. But immigrant rights groups say this is not the right response. Jerry Gonzalez is with the Georgia Association of Latino Elected officials.

JERRY GONZALEZ: It is a regressive policy. It's a barrier to higher education, and I find it morally reprehensible that the board of regents moved against its mission of promoting access to higher education.

LOHR: Gonzalez says the state is making bad policy, and his group is asking the board of regents to reconsider.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.


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