Undocumented Students Fight for In-State Tuition in Georgia

The Georgia Supreme Court heard oral arguments on October 16, 2015, regarding whether a group of immigrant students without legal status should be entitled to receive in-state tuition in the state’s public universities. The lawsuit began in 2013, when a group of 39 students sued the Georgia Board of Regents in Fulton County for denying them in-state tuition. The students involved in the lawsuit were brought to the United States illegally, but were granted temporary permission to stay as a result of the Obama Administration’s deferred action program in 2012.

The students’ attorney is arguing that they are lawfully present in the country under the Deferred Action Program for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and they are therefore entitled to receive in-state tuition. The students are asking the court to issue a declaratory judgment, meaning that they are not seeking any injunctive or monetary relief. In addition to arguing that the students do not meet the requirements of the state’s tuition policy, the Attorney General’s office is arguing that sovereign immunity would apply to prevent the students from seeking a declaratory judgment in this case. Sovereign immunity is the principal that states or state agencies are immune from lawsuits absent an express waiver of immunity. At the trial court level, the judge dismissed the case on sovereign immunity grounds, and the court of appeals upheld that decision. The Supreme Court has yet to issue a final decision in this case, but a decision is expected by next spring.

What is the Deferred Action Program for Childhood Arrivals?

On June 15, 2012, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security established the Deferred Action Program for Childhood Arrivals. The program allows for certain children, who were brought to the U.S. illegally and who meet the applicable guidelines, to remain in the country without fear of deportation for a two-year period. These individuals can apply for renewal of the deferred action so long as they meet the initial DACA guidelines and:

  • Did not depart the United States on or after Aug. 15, 2012, without advance parole;
  • Have continuously resided in the United States since having submitted the most recent DACA request that was approved; and
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

What is Georgia’s Policy on In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students?

At issue in the case is the State Board of Regents Policy, which was most recently amended in 2010. The policy requires that a student must be “lawfully present” in the United States in order to attend any institution in the University System of Georgia. Furthermore, the policy states that any non-citizens must be “legally in the state” to receive in-state tuition. Georgia is one of three states in the country that specifically prevent undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition.

Know Your Rights When Applying for College

Speak to a qualified immigration attorney about your rights if you want to attend college and believe that you deserve in-state tuition. Our Savannah and Macon immigration attorneys can help you. Call us today at 1Georgia Injury Lawyers, PLLC