The House Higher Education Committee met on Jan. 31 to discuss the bill that would ban illegal immigrants from attending all public colleges in Georgia.
House Bill 59, sponsored by Rep. Tom Rice, was proposed last year to prevent illegal immigrants from taking seats at Georgia colleges away from those students who are here legally, according to an article published in the Atlantic Journal-Constitution.
Although the bill was approved last year, the committee decided to delay due to its proven challenges as a hard and emotional issue.
Instead, the meeting served as a hearing in which speakers exchanged conflicting views and undocumented students delivered testimonies explaining how the bill, if passed, would affect their lives.
No date has been provided as to when the House Higher Education Committee will proceed to vote on House Bill 59.
According to Interim President Dr. Louis Levy, in October 2010 the Board of Regents approved a policy regarding the enrollment of undocumented immigrants into the University System of Georgia (USG) institutions.
The policy, which went into effect this past fall, allows illegal immigrants to enroll in Georgia universities and technical schools provided that the school has not turned away academically qualified students of legal residential status, but they must pay the higher out-of-state tuition.
According to Walter Peacock, director of the office of admissions at VSU, the in-state tuition for VSU is $3,322, while the out-of-state tuition is $9,310.
This means that under the current policy, an illegal immigrant, even if he or she has always resided in the state of Georgia, will have to pay approximately three times the tuition fee of legal in-state students in order to attend VSU.
According to the article, if House Bill 59 is implemented, illegal immigrants will be prohibited from enrolling in any of the 35 universities or 25 technical schools in the University System of Georgia. Colleges would be required to run students’ names through a federal database to confirm that they are in the country lawfully.
Peacock, who opposes House Bill 59, said he believes the bill to be out of bounds and that the federal government is not doing enough to help illegal immigrants gain a legal status.
“If we don’t educate these people we are compounding them down the road,” Peacock said. “I think it’s a travesty.”
Peacock also said he finds it particularly upsetting that VSU is permitted to admit the least qualified student over the highest qualified one if that student happens to be an undocumented immigrant.
“These people have been here for years to no fault of their own,” Peacock said. “We can get tons of economic advantage out of these potential nurses and doctors but instead we want to keep them peach pickers.”
The topic of Illegal immigration in the United States is one that a vast amount of people are passionate about and students at VSU are no exception.
Their opinions on House Bill 59 run the gamut from those who hope to see the bill put into action and others who strongly oppose it.
“I don’t think anybody illegally in the country should be able to go to college here,” Jennifer McMullen, a freshman middle grade education major who supports House Bill 59, said. “They shouldn’t even be able to stay because they don’t pay taxes, and they don’t contribute to our country because they send their money elsewhere.”
Janique Segers, a freshman undecided major, knows firsthand the obstacles that immigrants face in working to obtain their U.S. citizenship.
“I was born in South Africa and moved to the states when I was 6,” Segers said. “It took eleven years to get my naturalization certificate. “
Segers said the entire process of obtaining U.S. citizenship is ridiculously long and super expensive.
“I don’t think the bill is fair because if illegal immigrants are paying a higher tuition already why would they take away their right to attend universities when the schools are making money?” Segers said. “The schools should work with these students in order to help them obtain citizenship.”
Ryan Wood, a freshman, computer information system major who supports House Bill 59, said, “Citizens should not support illegal citizens by providing them the same services as legal citizens.”
Vilma Castillo, sophomore, psychology major, said being of Mexican ethnicity, she has friends who are illegal immigrants and hopes the bill is not put into action.
“These people are just trying to make a better life for themselves and this country is not giving them the support they need in order to do that,” Castillo said. “They say we are the future of America, but by pushing this bill they are severing the future of the many potential doctors and lawyers who have the ability to better this country.
Dr. Levy said VSU will continue to work with the USG staff to carry out the current policies.
Clarification: The bill is in regards to illegal immigrant students only, not all foreign students as the headline in the Feb. 23 issue read.