Concerns that undocumented immigrants were overrunning Georgia state colleges and universities led to the university system’s Board of Regents adopting a new policy last fall: Undocumented immigrants are now barred from entering Georgia’s five most competitive schools, if they have rejected academically qualified applicants in the previous two years. Undocumented immigrants can still be admitted at other public colleges or universities but will be charged higher rates for out-of-state residents.
Both of these measures send the message to undocumented immigrants that they are definitely “outsiders” and “aliens.” So much for the idea that working hard in school can help people fulfill the American Dream.
As†Think Progress notes, students and immigration advocates have participated in †a string of major protests about the policy, including one recently at the University of Georgia in Athens.†The five schools undocumented students are barred from include the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Georgia Health Sciences University and Georgia College & State University.
ABC News reports that five University of Georgia professors have decided to create a program called Freedom University. The professors will offer rigorous seminar courses that meet once a week and that will mirror courses taught at top state institutions that the students are not allowed to attend or can’t attend due to cuts in scholarship funds. The professors are teaching on a volunteer basis; the classes will be held at a local community Latino center. They’ve started an Amazon.com wish list asking for donations of textbooks for students and also gas cards so volunteers can help drive the students to and from class.
The professors are currently seeking accreditation for Freedom University so the courses might count towards credit should the students attend another institution; currently the program is meant to expose students to a college environment and challenge them intellectually. UGA history professor Pam Voekel emphasizes that the program is not a “substitute for letting these students into UGA, Georgia State or the other schools,” but it’s meant “for people who, right now, don’t have another option.”
ABC News describes two prospective Freedom University students:
Dressed in a black fleece jacket and tan cargo shorts and carrying a black backpack during a protest rally Tuesday at UGA against the policy, 25-year-old Karl Kings looked like he could be headed to class. However, Kings says he’s an illegal immigrant who was brought to the U.S. when he was a year old from a country in Asia that he declined to identify.
“Pretty much, I would be a Georgia boy except I wasn’t born here,” he said. “I grew up here my whole life.”
After graduating from high school in suburban Atlanta in 2004, he dreamed of going to college but couldn’t afford to pay out-of-state tuition. He’s gotten by doing odd jobs, but has had to turn down some more stable or challenging job offers because they required proof of eligibility to work in the U.S. He was filling out an application for Freedom University at the end of the rally this week….
Leeidy Solis,16, was brought to the U.S. illegally by her parents from Mexico when she was 2. A high school senior in Athens, she wants to become a veterinarian. She finds it hard to listen to her friends discuss where they’re applying to college because she’s not sure she will be able to go. She’s looking into where she might get a grant or scholarship to pay for her education.
Freedom University hopes to take all qualified applicants unless space constraints force them to limit the number of students admitted.
Among the professors who will be teaching is Pulitzer Prize winning author and MIT professor Junot Diaz. Saying that “policies barring illegal immigrants from state schools cruel and divisive,” Diaz wrote in an email:
“Whatever they ask of me. I’ll do everything and anything I can,” he wrote in an email. “This clearly is going to be a long fight.”
The university system’s Board of Regents found last year that less than 1 percent of the state’s public college students were undocumented immigrants.†Regents spokesman John Millsaps said he did not know enough about Freedom University to offer a comment.
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Photo of the Holmes Hunter Building on the UGA campus by kschlot1