Immigrants Sue Over Access to Georgia Colleges

     ATLANTA (CN) — Three undocumented students say that Georgia officials flout federal law by denying admission to the state’s top public universities to immigrants enrolled in a government program that protects them from deportation.
     Lead plaintiff Elly Marisol Estrada graduated from a Georgia high school and now attends Armstrong State University in Savannah.
     Though Estrada is undocumented, she is considered “lawfully present” by the federal government under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
     Started by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2012, the program allows immigrants who came to the country as children, graduated from high school, or are going to school, to apply for the right to live in the country lawfully for two-year, renewable terms.
     Once enrolled, these so-called “dreamers” can also apply for driver’s licenses and federal work permits.
     More than 800,000 immigrants had qualified for DACA as of March 31, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
     Estrada claims in her lawsuit that the University System of Georgia and its board of regents have adopted Policy 4.1.6 to unconstitutionally ban all undocumented immigrants from applying for its “most selective” schools, by defining “not lawfully present” to include all undocumented immigrants, regardless of their status in the eyes of the federal government. The lawsuit was filed Friday in Northern Georgia Federal Court.
     “Policy 4.1.6 directs that ‘[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,” the complaint states. “Policy 4.1.6 currently applies to the University of Georgia, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia College and State University, Georgia State University, and Augusta University.”
     Christy Dinkins, a senior administrative secretary in Georgia State University’s admissions office, said in an interview that the school requires incoming freshman to have minimum scores on college-entrance exams.
     “If you’re talking about averages for the undergraduate level our students have a good average GPA of 3.35. For test scores we require for the SAT at least 400 on the math and 430 on the reading, ACT the minimum is 17 English, 17 Math or 19 composite,” she said.
     Dinkins confirmed that Georgia State doesn’t admit all academically qualified students, as alleged in the lawsuit, but said that’s a product of increased competition, not changes in the school’s standards.
     “Our requirements stay the same every year, but the academic pool of our students changes every year. So the type of students who apply does get more academically competitive,” she said of the Atlanta-based university.
     Estrada seeks an injunction to stop Georgia’s higher education officials from barring DACA recipients from admission to the state’s public universities.
     She claims the policy violates her 14th Amendment equal-protection rights and the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which gives the federal government sole authority over immigration laws.
     Estrada and the two other plaintiffs — Salvador Alvarado and Diana Umana — are represented by Mark Begnaud with Horsley Begnaud in Atlanta, and by several attorneys with the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund.
     Defendants include the presidents of all the Georgia universities affected by the policy and Hank M. Huckaby, chancellor of the university system’s board of regents.
     The University System of Georgia’s legal office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
     Georgia isn’t the first state to push back against DACA. Two months after the Obama administration started the program, former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed an order blocking immigrant children with lawful status from getting any state benefits, including driver’s licenses.
     The Ninth Circuit affirmed an injunction against Brewer’s order in April.
     “Arizona has no cognizable interest in making the distinction it has for drivers’ licenses purposes. The federal government, not the states, holds exclusive authority concerning direct matters of immigration law,” Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for a three-judge panel of the appellate court.

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