STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The president's immigration announcement is significant for many people. But it's not clear what it means for students.
NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.
KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: While some in the Latino community are celebrating the president's announcement, University of Georgia Professor Betina Kaplan says what it means for education is murky.
BETINA KAPLAN: It's talking about deferral of the process of deportation. It's talking about working permits. But it's not saying anything about education.
LOHR: Georgia bans undocumented students from attending the state's five most prestigious public colleges, including the University of Georgia. Kaplan says it's unclear whether now schools will begin accepting these students again.
KAPLAN: I don't see any element that would put pressure on the schools in Georgia to lift the ban, but I think we have to wait and see.
LOHR: Another concern is that state and local officials will have discretion as to whether undocumented people who meet the criteria will get deferred status. University of Georgia Professor Lorgia Garcia-Pena says she worries students could identify themselves and end up at risk.
LORGIA GARCIA-PENA: So, a student could apply for this and still get deported. There's no process of appeal. There's no guarantee that the person that applies for this would even - will receive it. It's really very vague.
LOHR: A University of Georgia spokesman says the school will look to the state Board of Regents for guidance on the president's directive. The board says officials are examining the implications. State Senator Barry Loudermilk supports banning illegal immigrants from attending all public colleges in Georgia. He says even if students get deferred status as the president has suggested, that doesn't mean they are legal residents.
STATE SENATOR BARRY LOUDERMILK: I think that's something that going to have to - we're going to have to take a close look at. And will the state stand up and say: We're still not going to do this. So does it really become law? In my opinion, it does not.
LOHR: Taxpayers are subsidizing public colleges, so Loudermilk says that benefit should not go to undocumented students.
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LOHR: South of Atlanta in Griffin, Georgia, Gustavo Madrigal is cleaning up dishes in the home his family rents. He came from the U.S. from Mexico when he was nine and is undocumented.
GUSTAVO MADRIGAL: I never really knew what it would mean for me in college.
LOHR: Madrigal was a good student in high school, with a 3.9 average his junior year. He found out in 12th grade, he says, that he wasn't eligible for most scholarships because of his undocumented status.
MADRIGAL: I don't think education should be about immigration status. It should be about merit. And, I mean, the University of Georgia, I could have made a huge contribution to it by going there and studying there.
LOHR: Now 20, Madrigal is with the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance, a group lobbying for passage of a bill that would allow a pathway to citizenship. He says this latest White House announcement is not enough.
MADRIGAL: You know, we don't want people to end working at McDonald's the rest of their lives or - you know, not that that's not respectable but, you know, there's just so much potential with our community, that it would be a shame to see it go to waste.
KEISH KIM: We've been delaying and putting thousands of people on a limbo state for over a decade.
LOHR: Another undocumented student, Keish Kim, came to the U.S. from South Korea when she was eight. She's also unable to attend college here, despite her good grades. Kim sees the announcement as mostly a political move.
KIM: I definitely don't want to belittle President Obama's step, courage to stand up and announce that memo, but I think we have to be cautious. I am cautious about it and very hesitant.
LOHR: Kim says students want to see concrete action that would allow them to pursue their education legally. She worries the directive could be overturned if Obama is not re-elected. Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.