Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Georgia Judge: DACA Students Can Pay In-State Tuition Rate

Undocumented immigrants in Georgia who came to the U.S. as children and have received temporary protection from deportation under the Obama administration will now be able to pay in-state tuition at the state’s colleges and universities, a judge ruled in the years-long court case Tuesday.

At the heart of the issue was whether immigrants with temporary legal status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals were considered “legally in this state,” a requirement for eligibility to pay in-state tuition, which is about three times less expensive than out-of-state rates. 

Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Gail Tusan wrote in her ruling that University System of Georgia officials are “hereby compelled to perform their duty in applying the federal definition of lawful presence as it relates to students who are DACA recipients and to grant them in-state tuition status,” the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports. “Defendants 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.” 

She continued, “Such refusal of a faithful performance of their duties is unreasonable and creates a defect of legal justice that has already negatively impacted thousands of Georgia students.”

A group of students who had received DACA initially brought their case against the state in 2013. This was their second attempt to reverse the tuition policy for DACA recipients; the Georgia Supreme Court ruled last year that the Board of Regents was immune to a lawsuit, so they tried again by suing each board member individually.

The court battle doesn’t seem to be over, however. The University System of Georgia has announced plans to appeal the decision. 

“We believe our policy follows the law,” a spokesman for the Board of Regents said in a statement. “As the Superior Court’s decision will remain on hold during the appeals process, our current in-state tuition policy will remain in effect.”

During arguments, attorneys for the state defended the state’s decision not to grant in-state tuition to DACA recipients, arguing that with President-elect Donald Trump poised to take office, the future of DACA is “very much in doubt.”

The students’ lawyer has also acknowledged that it’s unclear what the ruling will mean for the students if DACA is repealed. “We really don’t know what this means long term,” he told the Associated Press, “but I know that today these kids can pay in-state tuition, something that should have happened four years ago.”