Tuition Hearing Draws a Crowd

A packed courtroom listened to arguments about the state's college tuition policy for undocumented students.
A packed courtroom listened to arguments about the state's college tuition policy for undocumented students.
Credit Martha Dalton / WABE

A hearing in a Fulton County courtroom drew a crowd Tuesday. A group of undocumented students filed a lawsuit against the state over its college tuition policy. Currently, undocumented students can attend most Georgia public colleges. But, they have to pay out-of-state tuition rates, which can be 3-4 times higher than in-state rates. 

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The Georgia Board of Regents adopted a policy in 2010 requiring the state’s public colleges to verify the “lawful presence” of admitted students. Students who couldn’t do that had to pay out-of-state tuition rates, even if they’re Georgia residents. In 2012, President Obama enacted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, or DACA. The program provides temporary deportation relief for undocumented residents who were brought to the U.S. as children.  The students involved in the lawsuit are DACA recipients.

Their attorney, Charles Kuck, argued that means they have a lawful presence, at least for now.

“What we’re asking the court to find on this is while they have Deferred Action, they’re lawfully present,” he said. “If this ends tomorrow or ends in 2016, they won’t be lawfully present anymore, and their right to the situation goes away.”

But state attorney Russell Willard argued that even President Obama’s former homeland security chief said DACA doesn’t provide legal status. 

“Janet Napolitano, in the memo that created the DACA program, expressly said, ‘All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you during the period you have DACA,'” Willard said. “It confers no legal status, no rights. You are just here by a state of prosecutorial grace.”

Kuck pointed out that the students were able to legally obtain drivers’ licenses and Social Security cards as a result of DACA.

Afterwards, outside the courthouse, plaintiff and high school senior Daniela Martinez seemed optimistic.

“Hopefully, let’s hope, we can get in-state tuition and I can continue my studies, because I want to be a teacher, early childhood education, and if that happens, it’s going to be everything,” she said.

Judge John Goger, who presided over the hearing, didn’t indicate when he’ll hand down a decision. 

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