Undocumented Students and Allies Protest Segregation at UGA, GSU and Georgia Tech

Posted By Monica Harvin on February 5, 2016 at 5:45 pm
Undocumented Students and Allies Protest Segregation at UGA, GSU and Georgia Tech

Students staged sit-in demonstrations at the University of Georgia, Georgia State University, and Georgia Tech beginning on February 1, 2016, protesting policies that ban undocumented students from attending five of the state’s top public universities and deny in-state tuition to undocumented students.

The demonstrations were organized and led by students of Freedom University, an Atlanta-based school that offers tuition-free education and college assistance to undocumented students. Students from other universities in Georgia and around the country also converged at the three university campuses to join the demonstration, which began on Monday, February 1, and lasted until the early hours of Tuesday morning. In all, 14 arrests were made across the campuses, with demonstrators charged with criminal trespassing and later released on bond.

Sit-in demonstrations integrated university classrooms in Georgia

Laura Emiko Soltis, Ph.D., Executive Director of Freedom University, participated at the GSU sit-in and tells GoodCall that, “in the classrooms, we actually had class, we had two professors at each location… and the action was trying to demonstrate what the students want, which is to learn together.”

She explains, “[The students] recognize that the [Board of Regents] policies [4.1.6 and 4.3.4] are morally wrong and another form of educational segregation. And it’s really not about themselves. A lot of them have been banned for five years and don’t see college as an option right now, but they’re doing it for their brothers and sisters and other undocumented young people.”

On the same day that the sit-ins took place, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the students could not sue the Regents for in-state tuition. Daniella Mirza, a Freedom University student, told the Athens Banner-Herald that while the action was not planned to coincide with the decision, it served to demonstrate what the students have, in so far, been unable to achieve.

The content of the policies in question is as follows:

4.1.6 Admission of Persons Not Lawfully Present in the United States

“A person who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible for admission to any University System institution which, for the two most recent academic years, did not admit all academically qualified applicants (except for cases in which applicants were rejected for non-academic reasons).”

4.3.4 Verification of Lawful Presence

“Each University System institution shall verify the lawful presence in the United States of every successfully admitted person applying for resident tuition status…”

Student allies from the across the country and Georgia participated

NowmeeShehad is a student at Emory University and one of about 60 allies from more than 12 universities in Georgia and around the country who participated in the sit-ins. In an interview with GoodCall, she describes a school administrator at Georgia Tech arriving angrily to the room where the sit-in was taking place and proceeding to call the police. Afterward, police officers blocked off a hallway and repeatedly denied students access to the bathroom and water. Later, a police officer arrived on the scene and began to direct a megaphone at the students and blare sirens.

Student demonstrators arrested at Georgia State University near elevators on February 1-2, 2016. Photo credit: Laura Emiko Soltis, Freedom University.

Dr. Soltis points to the fact that most of these allies were documented students in her interview with GoodCall and goes on to say that, once again, students from the Northeast and around the country are coming back to the South to stand in solidarity with students of color. “The consciousness is spreading for students around the country, from Harvard, Bard, and Smith to Morehouse, Spelman, Kennesaw, and many other Georgia universities,” she tells.

“Students who are enrolled in [Georgia] universities are recognizing that there are students missing from their classes. They are recognizing that these bans are put in place – posited as advocating on behalf of documented students…that undocumented students are taking away your seats, that they are a burden on Georgia universities. They are pitting students against each other,” she explains. “The fact that the allies are recognizing that and supporting the undocumented students really undermines the justification for the bans.”

Private universities in Georgia have already changed their policies to integrate undocumented students into the student body. Shehad tells GoodCall that at Emory she was part of a successful campaign last year in which the university changed its financial aid policy. And now, students that have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status are considered in-state students.

Educational segregation still an issue in the South

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 4.24.42 PMJacqueline Delgadillo, one of the sit-in organizers and a third-year student at Freedom University, tells GoodCall that the event took about three months of planning. She explains that last year, Freedom University students toured colleges around the country, giving panels on the movement and inviting students to participate.

“We wanted to bring to light that there’s still segregation going on,” she says. “While we’re not segregated based on race, we’re being segregated based on citizenship… even though, we’ve been here, basically, our whole lives.”

Delgadillo says to GoodCall that there are people who say they should “get in line and do it the right way.” Her response is that these people don’t understand that “for us, there is no line. There’s no other way to do this.” She says that undocumented students can’t just go back to the countries they were brought from because those places are completely unfamiliar, and even dangerous in many cases.  “We’ve grown up here [in Georgia],” she says, but lack the same access to higher education that other Georgia students have.

In addition to the Board of Regents policies, Georgia is one of three states with “legislation that specifically prohibits undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition rates. Alabama and South Carolina go one step further and prohibit undocumented students from enrolling at any public postsecondary institution,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Across the country, policies toward undocumented students are conflicting. The Department of Education released late last year a resource guide for schools to support undocumented students, and states like California are taking even further action to incorporate undocumented students into higher education through the newest DREAM loan program. But, at the same time, policies in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Arizona, and Indiana are placing additional barriers to higher education for undocumented students.

Monica Harvin
Monica is a GoodCall contributing editor, covering personal finance and education. She's also GoodCall's diversity expert, with a master's degree in Latin American studies from UCLA and bachelor's degree in history from the University of Florida.

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