By Jada Haynes
Osvaldo Bastida is trying to pay for college. However, he has no grants, no financial aid, no chance for federal work-study and one scholarship from his high school cross-country coach. With an employment authorization card, he’s only allowed to work, not claim citizenship.
As an undocumented student, Bastida is paying about $3,000 for two classes each semester at Dalton State College. But, should the Georgia Supreme Court rule in favor of the plaintiffs suing the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents (BOR) for in-state tuition, Bastida may be eligible for it someday.
Rigoberto Rivera, Georgia Perimeter College (GPC) student organizer for the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance (GUYA), is unable to finish due to the fees and didn’t research any other schools “since they are more expensive than GPC.”
Rivera is one of 39 other plaintiffs in the midst of the Olvera et al. v. University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents et al. lawsuit. Their lawyer, Charles Cook, presented their argument for in-state tuition to the Supreme Court of Georgia on Oct. 16.
The Justices are currently considering both sides before releasing a decision. Rivera said the BOR’s policies allow what those eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are asking for.
“I believe that the Supreme Court of Georgia will rule in our favor,” he said. “Our request to the courts is simply to tell the BOR that they are misinterpreting their own policies when denying deferred action grantees in-state tuition. The BOR’s policies state that anyone with legal presence in the country and who meets requirements for in-state tuition should be able to obtain such benefit.
The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI) recently released a report on offering discounted in-state tuition to qualified undocumented students under DACA. To qualify, you have to have been brought to the United States before you were 16, currently under the age of 31, and have lived continuously in the country for five years as of June 2012.
Melissa Johnson, a Policy Analyst who wrote the GBPI’s report on DACA, said not allowing undocumented students in-state tuition holds Georgia back from providing diverse workforces and reaching Gov. Nathan Deal’s goal of adding 250,000 more college graduates to Georgia’s workforce.
“They are hurting our ability to create diverse workforces, especially when you consider that 27 other states including our neighbors Alabama and Mississippi are at least allowing partial access to in-state tuition for DACA students,” she said. “We’re failing to capitalize on Georgia’s investment in our public school system in educating undocumented students. And finally, we’re undermining our own goal to create 250,000 additional college graduates by 2020 to meet our own workforce needs and decreasing potential tax revenues.”
Johnson also said there are 40,000 Georgians eligible for DACA.
The state legislature’s opposition to DACA comes mostly from Sen. Joshua McKoon’s press conferences and proposals, wherein he motions that undocumented immigrants shouldn’t have access to driver’s licenses and wants to extend it to restrict access to in-state tuition.
According to Johnson, McKoon has “been pretty vocal about any inclusive policies for immigrants.”
Bastida is currently working while in school to cover his current tuition costs. He meets DACA’s requirements, yet he can’t currently progress past that point.
“Don’t give up on what you want to accomplish in life, and remember always work, focus and strive,” said Bastida to all others currently in his position.
Johnson said allowing DACA students to receive federal grants, such as HOPE and Zell Miller, could be a future possibility.
“If we allowed undocumented students and, specifically, DACA students, to pay in-state tuition that wouldn’t affect eligibility for HOPE,” Johnson said. “So they would…still be ineligible. That would be another step.”
For any undocumented students having trouble affording out-of-state tuition, there are many programs available for assistance: Freedom University Georgia, Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance (GUYA), Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials & Latino Community Development Fund (GALEO), the Latin American Association (LAA) and College Uncomplicated’s YouTube series called “UndocU.”
This article was written by Jada Haynes and was originally published on The Signal.