Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Georgia Supreme Court Considers Whether DACA Students Pay In-State Tuition

The Georgia Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week in a controversial case to grant in-state tuition benefits to some undocumented immigrant students. 
Source: Flickr/ via peoplesworld (CC BY-NC 2.0)

In-state tuition for undocumented immigrant college students is again in the spotlight this week in a case that’s made its way to the Georgia Supreme Court. Central to the arguments the justices will hear is whether students living in Georgia who have been granted federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals should be considered lawful state residents. 

The plaintiffs, 39 immigrant students, are fighting against an interpretation of the 2010 Board of Regents policy that requires students to be “lawfully present” to receive in-state tuition. Under DACA — a stay of deportation for undocumented youth who came to the United States as children — the students argue they are in the country legally and therefore lawful state residents. 

Out-of-state tuition can cost thousands of dollars more than in-state rates, which has prevented some of the plaintiffs from attending and completing their education at Georgia schools. DACA students are not eligible for federal financial aid. 

According to WABE, Atlanta’s NPR affiliate, the lawsuit was first filed in August 2013. Since then, two lower courts have ruled that the state is protected from such lawsuits under sovereign immunity.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank Georgia Budget and Policy Institute recently released a report which argued in favor of the students’ case, stating, ”The state can add an estimated $10 million per year to state and local coffers through a more skilled, higher earning workforce if it allows Georgians to pay in-state tuition at any public college or university if they are eligible to work without threat of deportation.”

Joshua Silavent of The Times in Gainesville, Georgia, reports Republican lawmakers have expressed concern that granting in-state tuition to these immigrant students would take money away from scholarships and ultimately hurt the ability of native-born students to afford college.  

“Though most Republicans have stayed relatively mum on the case, they have been unwilling to allow in-state tuition in the past,” Silavent writes. ”Some conservatives have called for banning DACA recipients from receiving driver’s licenses.”

Currently, 20 states offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, their laws “typically require attendance and graduation at state high schools, acceptance at a state college or university, and promising to apply for legal status as soon as eligible.”