Elly Marisol Estrada, Salvador Alvarado, Diana Marisol and two law firms are suing the University System of Georgia (USG) for barring them from Georgia’s top universities.
The students filed their case on Friday, Sept. 9, and are running against not only USG, but the five institutions from which they are banned from.
USG’s policy 4.1.6, which stands since 2010, states that any individual who isn’t lawfully present in the country “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”.
Those institutions include Georgia State, the University of Georgia, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia College and State University, and Augusta University. According to The Atlantic, Georgia is one of the three states which bans undocumented students from attending public universities. South Carolina and Alabama uphold the same policy.
Andrea Jones, spokeswoman of Georgia State, said the university supports the policy.
“We follow the [Board of Regents’] policy on this, which uses state law as its guide,” she said.
The Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF) and Horsley Begnaud LLC are suing for the USG policy’s alleged violation of the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution which guarantees all United States’ lawful citizens equal protection under the law.
Birth Lopez, a MALDEF attorney said there’s no question about whether these students are lawfully present.
“[DACA individuals] are among the best and brightest in the state of Georgia and have continuously demonstrated that,” he said.
Lopez said both the Supreme Court and the Constitution make it clear that states cannot and shouldn’t override federal policies and regulations.
The USG policy first took the spotlight in Panther territory when undocumented student protesters, armed with butterfly wings, marched to Georgia State University President Mark Becker’s office in demand of support from the university.
Then Student Government Association (SGA) President Sebastian Parra issued a resolution in support of undocumented students back in spring 2016, following the protests. The former president had said the issue hit close to home and remained outspoken about his support towards undocumented and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students. This year, however, SGA was hesitant to stand against the university.
SGA Senator and Student Life Committee Chair Gabriela Batista-Vargas told The Signal it’s harder for the student government to finalize its stance this year, since the university is involved in the lawsuit.
“We’d love for [DACA students] to attend [Georgia’s top universities] but at the same time we have to be respectful towards the university’s administration,” she said.
SGA’s Executive Vice President, Shamari Southwell, said despite the association’s split feelings, he fully supports DACA students in the lawsuit.
“If students are here, and legislation has been passed to protect [their rights], the university should support them and shouldn’t hinder their education,” Southwell said.
The student government has motioned to table a discussion on the topic, and has hinted about future legislation concerning the matter in the upcoming meeting.
This is the third lawsuit the university system of Georgia has faced concerning immigrant student policies.
Rigo Rivera, president of the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance (GUYA), an advocacy organization led by immigrant youth, said he was the lead plaintiff in two lawsuits within the past years targeting the state’s Board of Regents.
The first lawsuit was filed in 2013, over the Board of Regents’ policy to require undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition in the Georgia university they choose to attend. The case reached the Georgia Supreme Court, where it was dismissed.
“They told us the Board of Regents had immunity, and that we couldn’t sue them as an entire board,” Rivera said.
So they sued again, this time each board member individually and that lawsuit is still in progress.
The Signal reached out to Board of Regents spokesman Charles Sutlive, but he did not respond by press time.