A federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) temporarily protects some young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children from deportation. That lets them attend state schools in many places, including some in Georgia. But state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, says legally undocumented students in Georgia still have to pay out-of-state tuition rates. The cost can be about three times higher than in-state rates, depending on the school.
“To qualify for in-state tuition at a Georgia public college or university, you have to be not only in Georgia – a Georgia resident – but you have to have legal status within the United States,” McKoon says.
At issue is the term “legal status.” Immigration advocates have filed two lawsuits in Georgia, arguing DACA recipients have legal status. McKoon says that’s not what deferred action does.
“It’s the executive branch of the federal government saying, ‘We know you are guilty of a crime, in this case the crime of being in the country illegally or without legal status, but we are choosing not to exercise our discretion to have you deported,’” he says.
McKoon plans to introduce a bill that draws a distinction between the two terms. He says that would clarify the current law and make the lawsuits unnecessary.
But he’ll face opposition. House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, says she’s not likely to support it.
“It’s going to sound reasonable on its face, but it’s tapping into an anti-immigrant sentiment that our incoming administration has said is reasonable,” Abrams says.
McKoon says he plans to pre-file the bill this month.
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