BREAKING: Students Reclaim and Occupy Georgia Board of Regents to Hold Hearing on Admissions Bans on Undocumented Students!
On Tuesday, May 10, 2016, undocumented students from Freedom University and student representatives from universities throughout Georgia disrupted a public meeting by the Georgia Board of Regents in an act of civil disobedience against the Board’s restrictive policies against undocumented students! The students proceeded with an alternative meeting led by student board members to hear testimonies by expert witnesses on the economic, social, and political impact of Policies 4.1.6 and 4.3.4.
In 2010, the Georgia Board of Regents, the governing body of the University System of Georgia, passed Policy 4.1.6 and Policy 4.3.4, which ban undocumented students from admission to the state’s top five public universities and prohibit them from qualifying for in-state tuition. Georgia is one of only three states in the country – including Alabama and South Carolina – to institute an admissions ban against undocumented students in public higher education. Georgia is the only state to uphold restrictive admissions policies against immigrant students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a federal program that grants legal presence to immigrant youth who meet specific residency and education requirements.
The alternative board meeting was recorded and streamed live on the “Freedom U. Georgia” Facebook page. Expert witnesses included Georgia State Senator Vincent Fort, Azadeh Shahshahani, Legal and Advocacy Director at Project South, and Salvador Alvarado, an undocumented student leader from Georgia. The student board members included four undocumented students from Freedom University, and documented student representatives from Georgia State University and Emory University. Based on expert testimonies, the student-led Board of Regents ruled in opposition to Policy 4.1.6 and Policy 4.3.4.
Susana Ramirez, a Freedom University student, served as the student-appointed Chancellor of the Board of Regents. “Students are here today to help the Board of Regents fulfill its mission of creating ‘a more educated Georgia,’” Ramirez says. “We are holding a hearing to present the public with the facts of the admissions bans, and to initiate public discussion on the moral implications and economic impact of modern segregation in higher education in Georgia.”
Dr. Laura Emiko Soltis, the Executive Director of Freedom University, says the courage of the students is inspiring. “Students are essentially schooling the Georgia Board of Regents,” she says. “They are sending a powerful message that undocumented students know their history and they know their human rights. In Georgia, we have a situation where thousands of DACA recipients, who are overwhelmingly people of color, can legally drive to low-wage jobs but be denied the right to education and the right to vote. This is a new variation of an old system in the South, and the students know this. They know that the same universities that ban undocumented students today banned Black students in 1960. Most importantly, they know that students defeated educational segregation then and students will defeat it now.”
Asma Elhuni, a student participant who attends Georgia State University, says, “I am one of thousands of students enrolled in Georgia public universities who oppose the admissions bans. Undocumented students are absent from our college classrooms, not because of their academic merit, but because of where they were born. They pay taxes. They are our neighbors. This ban only functions to punish young people. But students are united: to attack one group of students is to attack all of us. We will continue to fight for equal access to education until we win.”
The student-led Board of Regents announced a nationwide economic boycott of the state of Georgia at the conclusion of its hearing. Soon afterward, Georgia Capitol Police arrested seven students on charges of criminal trespassing, disruption of general assembly sessions, and obstructing law enforcement officers. They spent 12 hours in Fulton County Jail and were released on bond.
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(Video by Brandon Bristol, Mackenzie Fuller, and Laura Emiko Soltis)
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