KATE BRUMBACK, Associated Press
ATLANTA - Opponents of a policy that effectively bans illegal immigrants from Georgia's most competitive state colleges and universities on Tuesday asked the university system to overturn it.
"This policy effectively tells an entire group of perfectly qualified students that they're not good enough solely because of their immigration status," Juan Carlos Cardoza-Oquendo, a senior at the University of Georgia and the son of immigrants, told the committee.
The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia last year implemented the policy barring any school that has rejected academically qualified applicants in the previous two years from accepting illegal immigrants. That includes five Georgia colleges and universities: the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Georgia Health Sciences University and Georgia College & State University. Illegal immigrants may still be admitted to any other state college or university, provided that they pay out-of-state tuition.
Keish Kim, an illegal immigrant from Korea, also testified before the committee. She is currently taking a class offered by Freedom University, a program offered by several University of Georgia professors on their own time that is open to students regardless of their immigration status or ability to pay.
"My parents brought me here in hopes of giving me the opportunity to dream higher than they ever could," she said. "But here in Georgia it has stopped me even before I had the chance to spread my wings."
Cardoza-Oquendo argued that a study the Regents themselves conducted proved that illegal immigrants were not a burden on Georgia's university system.
The Regents conducted the study last year amid public concerns that Georgia state colleges and universities were being overrun by illegal immigrants, that taxpayers were subsidizing their education and legal residents were being displaced. The study found that less than 1 percent of the state's public college students were illegal immigrants, and that students who pay out-of-state tuition more than pay for their education.
The committee members listened to the students and then committee vice chair Mansfield Jennings thanked them for their perspective.
"Thank you all for being with us and thank you for bringing us this educated idea," Jennings said, adding that he wasn't sure when the full board might take up the issue or when a decision might be made.
A coalition of groups opposing the policy also held a news conference Tuesday afternoon outside the Capitol to urge the Regents to rescind the policy.