What if you were held responsible for crimes your parents committed when they were twenty-years-old?

Can you imagine being deported to a country that you couldn’t remember just because your parents broke the law years ago?

What if you couldn’t go to the best universities in the state you’ve always called “home” because, when you were five years old, you decided to stay with your parents who were illegally immigrating to the United States?

Yes, people broke the U.S. immigration laws. They brought their babies and their children with them. As a country, can we not look past this when it comes to educating the children? Do we believe generations of people should pay the price for one generations’ actions? Do we, as a country, not believe in forgiveness and restoration?

Many people may not know that if you are an undocumented immigrant in the United States, you can attend preschool, elementary school, middle school, and high school without proving legal residency in the country. K-12 schools do not check immigration status when you enroll your child.

However, these very same students are not allowed to attend universities in the state of Georgia that “did not admit all academically qualified applicants for the two most recent years.” In other words, under Policy 4.1.6, the top five universities in the state do not accept undocumented students because, they argue, they would be rejecting legal residents from their schools and giving those places to undocumented students.

That prohibition now only applies to the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Georgia College & State universities as a result of the most recent admissions data for Georgia State University and August State University. Read more about this on the AJC.

First, I want to say that I’m extremely glad that Georgia high school students who are undocumented are going to have the opportunity to attend these institutions. However, the fact that Policy 4.1.6 still exists is troubling.

I would argue that a student, regardless of their immigration status (and especially if they qualify for DACA – read the end of the article to learn about DACA), should be allowed to attend the top universities and receive in-state tuition in the state of Georgia (or at least be permitted to receive federal tuition loans). These two aspects must go together. If students don’t have access to in-state tuition or federal loan programs (or the HOPE scholarship), then attending any college in the state will be close to impossible for the average student — unless they receive a full scholarship from a private foundation, donor, or school.

In this article, I want to argue that making these changes will do two things: 1) increase our Georgia universities’ academic ranking and prestige, and 2) it will benefit our state by keeping high-achieving students from leaving Georgia.

Allowing undocumented students would increase our universities’ rankings

Schools are ranked based on a combination of multiple factors including “funding and endowment, research excellence and/or influence, specialization expertise, admissions, student options, award numbers, internationalization, graduate employment, industrial linkage, historical reputation and other criteria.”1

According to U.S. News, they use the following criteria: “graduation and first-year student retention rates, assessment by administrators at peer institutions, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, alumni giving, graduation rate performance and, for National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges only, high school counselor ratings of colleges.”

Click here to view website.

As we think about how to make our universities better, we should look at how our universities admit students, since it is primarily the student and professor composition that determine the ranking and success of our schools.

If we allow students to attend our top universities based on the regular admission criteria – instead of disqualifying students based on their documentation status – then our top universities wouldn’t lose top tier student candidates to out-of-state universities that accept undocumented students.

When a student applies to the University of Georgia, the school does not give preference to students living within the state or the country (in fact, they may give preference to out-of-state applicants). The admissions department ostensibly ranks students based on their ACT scores, SAT scores, GPA, high school class rank, completion of college preparatory program, recommendation, and demonstration of competencies.2

To deny students admittance based on documentation status is to potentially miss out on more highly-qualified students. This does not increase the university’s selectivity, internationalization, graduation rate performance, and retention rates. In fact, it decreases UGA’s score in these areas, thus decreasing the school’s prestige and appeal to other high-achieving students from around the country and the world.

Allowing undocumented students would keep high-achieving students from leaving our state

Every year, Georgia sends more students to out-of-state universities and colleges than it receives.3  (This trend is not peculiar to UGA; it is a national trend among universities – read more here.)

New York Times Interactive Student Migration Maps

Why is this significant? Well, one obvious factor (not entirely related to admitting undocumented students) is that out-of-state students pay almost triple the tuition of what an in-state student pays, clearly an incentive  to admit students from out-of-state. Georgia makes undocumented students pay out-of-state tuition at it its other universities, so why not allow these same students to pay out-of-state tuition at its flagship universities?

(*Side-note: I am not in favor of making undocumented students pay out-of-state tuition as it makes it tremendously difficult for students who don’t qualify for full-rides. These same students cannot qualify for federal assistance either, increasing the financial burden on these students.*)

However, this is also significant because if we are receiving more students from out-of-state, that means that seats at UGA or Georgia Tech are being taken from Georgia residents by students from other states, a situation being lamented by in-state tuition-seekers in states from around the country.4

From an economic perspective, this is not a best practice. If some of our most brilliant young people are being drawn away to other states, we are losing valuable human and financial capital. It is unfortunate that we currently lose high-achieving, undocumented students to top schools like Cornell, Columbia, and Harvard, because, unlike our top universities, they accept students regardless of immigration status.

Click here to view website.

To be even more specific: “Three states—Arizona, Georgia and Indiana—specifically prohibit in-state tuition rates for undocumented students, and two states—Alabama and South Carolina— prohibit undocumented students from enrolling at any public post-secondary institution.”

It is also interesting to note that these states also rank low on measures of median household income and overall wealth. Georgia ranks 33rd, Alabama 46th, South Carolina 42nd, Arizona 30th, and Indiana 31st. While some might argue that these states then have all the more reason to ban undocumented immigrants from attending or receiving in-state tuition, these states also engage in admissions practices that favor out-of-state applicants over in-state applicants.5 

If the Board of Regents, the governor, and the legislature want to argue that our ban on undocumented immigrants at our top universities is unfair to our “legal” in-state residents, then perhaps they should reconsider some of their admissions practices, as it clearly does not benefit our current “legal” Georgia residents.

I want people to understand: I’m not asking for “affirmative action” for students who are undocumented. I’m just asking that we consider all students for our top universities regardless of their immigration status (or, at the very least, if they qualify for DACA).

By doing this, we will increase the educational quality at our high schools and our universities, and we will retain the highest achieving students in our state. If we are going to invest our time and our money into these young people, from kindergarten all the way to twelfth grade, then let’s be sure to see this public investment through until college.

Even former chancellor for the Board of Regents, Erroll Davis, who oversaw the implementation of the ban on in-state tuition and the ban on undocumented students entering the top 5 universities, now condemns this policy. In a recent interview with the AJC, Davis said: “It is a substantial taxpayer investment and then we turn around and say, ‘Jeez, we don’t want to leverage or capitalize on that investment further,’” he said. “It is just logically stupid.”

As taxpayers, we invest our public dollars into our public school system in order to reap a public reward: a healthy, prosperous, vibrant society. It makes no sense to educate students for 13 years in order to send them out of our state, away from the future jobs and the future communities we’ve invested in.

What is DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)?

If you were brought here as a child without the proper documentation, DACA provides you with protection from deportation, the opportunity to obtain a work visa, and the opportunity to apply to certain universities and colleges. This executive order is predicated upon the fact that children often do not have a choice when their parents decide to move, and therefore should not be punished based on their parents’ “crime” of illegal immigration.

To obtain DACA, you have to complete an application for an Employment Authorization Document and a background check, which amounts to a $465 processing fee.

You also have to meet the following criteria:

  • are under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012;
  • came to the U.S. while under the age of 16;
  • have continuously resided in the U.S. from June 15, 2007 to the present. (For purposes of calculating this five year period, brief and innocent absences from the United States for humanitarian reasons will not be included);
  • entered the U.S. without inspection or fell out of lawful visa status before June 15, 2012;
  • were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making the request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
  • are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or armed forces;
  • have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors of any kind; and
  • do not pose a threat to national security or public safety.