Dalton State Tuition*
In-state students: $2,058
Out-of-state students: $6,187
* For a 15-credit-hour semester
Percent of students who are Latino, fall 2016
University System of Georgia*: Of 321,551 total students, 7.7 percent are Latino
Dalton State: Of 5,188 students, 24.3 percent are Latino
Georgia Gwinnett College: 12,052 students, 18.1 percent Latino
Georgia Highlands College: 6,013 students, 12.5 percent Latino
* 29 colleges and universities
DACA requests granted, through September 2016
United States: 860,000
* Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Estimates of total unauthorized immigrants
United States: 11 million
*Source: Migration Policy Institute, drawing on 2014 data
When Georgia's university system lost a court case two weeks ago, Dalton State College indirectly won big — like, millions of dollars big, maybe.
But now, after a higher court hit the pause button, students and staff at the college aren't sure what to think.
On Dec. 30, a Fulton County judge sided with 10 unauthorized immigrants against the state's Board of Regents, which controls 29 colleges and universities. The judge said the immigrants, whose U.S. residency is protected under a presidential executive order, deserve to pay in-state tuition. That will make college more affordable.
Dalton's population is 48 percent Latino. The judge's ruling could bring more students, especially Latinos, to class. And that could lead to millions of dollars for classroom technology, research, more professors, more counselors, you name it.
Last fall, 24.3 percent of Dalton State's 5,188 students were Latino. Add just 36 Latinos and the rate tips above one-fourth, which qualifies Dalton State to become an official Hispanic Serving Institution.
A federal designation, the label would allow Dalton State to apply for grants it currently can't get. Right now, no college or university in Georgia is a Hispanic Serving Institution.
So the judge's ruling excited local students protected under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, said Quincy Jenkins, the director of Latino culture at Dalton State. Their tuition would drop from $6,000 for 15 credit hours per semester to $2,000.
Greater affordability also would likely bring more Latino students to the school.
But the Board of Regents is fighting the ruling, and Georgia Court of Appeals judges said Friday that cheaper tuition won't take effect while they mull over the lower court's decision.
"It was kind of a whirlwind of emotions," said Jenkins, who has been exchanging emails with Latino students, keeping them informed on the boring but important legal proceedings. "To finally get in-state tuition — and then to have it on hold. Most of them understood.
"It isn't a change. Because there is no change."
Meanwhile, all of this could be for nothing. On Friday, Donald Trump will be inaugurated after a campaign marked by tough stances against undocumented immigrants. Since his election in November, he has suggested he might continue to protect DACA immigrants — but some Dalton State students don't trust the president-elect.
"They're very nervous about whether DACA is going to stay," Jenkins said. "They're scared they're going to be exposed and get deported."
Political and legal fights
President Barack Obama's 2012 executive order allowed some undocumented immigrants brought here as children to stay in the U.S. temporarily.
Through Sept. 30, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 820,000 people have received protection under DACA. About 23,400 are in Georgia, the eighth most of any state, and about 8,100 live in Tennessee.
Board of Regents officials in Georgia argued DACA students shouldn't qualify for in-state tuition because it only applies to people with a "legal presence" in the state. The question turns on the definition of "legal presence."
Charles Kuck, an Atlanta immigration lawyer representing 10 DACA students, told a Fulton County Superior Court judge the executive order mean they do have a legal presence — even if it's not permanent.
On Dec. 30, Judge Gail Tusan sided with the immigrants.
"(The Board of Regents) have refused to accept the federally established lawful presence of Plaintiffs and many other similarly situated students — students who are Georgia taxpayers, workers and graduates of Georgia public high schools pursuing an affordable option for higher education," Tusan wrote.
A Board of Regents spokesman declined to comment Friday, citing the appeal.
Jerry Gonzalez, the executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO), called the regents' position "shameful."
"They're taking this stand as if they're (former Alabama Gov.) George Wallace in the school door, preventing these students from going to college," Gonzalez said.
Meanwhile, there's a Republican-sized elephant in the room: Trump's inauguration. On the president-elect's website, a staffer wrote Trump plans to get rid of Obama's executive orders on immigration, which would include DACA. But in December, Trump offered a glimmer of hope to those immigrants.
"We're going to work something out that's going to make people happy and proud," he told Time Magazine.
His attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions, also was vague last week when pressed during a confirmation hearing about his DACA plans.
"I really would urge us to all work together," Sessions testified. "I would try to be supporting, to end the illegality and put us in a position where we can wrestle with how to handle these difficult, compassionate decisions.
In the U.S. House and Senate, seven Republicans and seven Democrats have sponsored a bill to extend DACA.
In the Tennessee General Assembly, Republican state Sen. Todd Gardenhire plans to reintroduce a bill granting in-state college tuition to undocumented immigrants who attend public high schools in Tennessee for three years.
The bill passed the Senate in 2015 but fell short in the House by two votes. A couple of supporters who could have made the difference were out sick that day after a flu bug swept through Davidson County.
"We would have passed it," he said. "That's just the way things are in life."
Alondra Gomez, 19, will be tracking Gardenhire's bill this year. Born in western Mexico, Gomez was brought to the U.S. at age 5 when her parents came here for better work opportunities. They pulled shifts as brick factory laborers and housekeepers.
Gomez didn't realize her entrance to the country had been illegal until she was a teenager, but she didn't worry much about it until she was about to graduate from Chattanooga High School for Creative Arts in 2015.
She'd wanted to go into the medical field ever since her ballet instructor had a cardiac event before practice four years ago and died in the hospital.
Gomez cried, and eventually she withdrew from dance. The art didn't matter anymore.
"It was very traumatizing," she said. "He was like a father figure to me. I didn't know how to do CPR. I didn't know how to help."
Maryville College accepted her after high school, but tuition would have cost $16,000 a semester. In August 2015 she joined Chattanooga State's one-year medical assistant program, paid for by a third-party scholarship. She learned to take vital signs and draw blood. She then accepted a job at the Chattanooga Allergy Clinic.
Gomez wants to do more. She wants to attend nursing school at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and become a nurse practitioner. Maybe she will be a doctor someday. Eventually, she wants to join Doctors Without Borders.
But right now, she's at the first step, waiting, wondering if there will be a second step.
"I've worked very hard to make it work," she said. "But there's only so much one person can do."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.