Undocumented young people in Georgia are fighting for access to higher education with support from the ACLU and a group of professors who have volunteered to teach college-level courses for free.
Georgia’s Board of Regents adopted a policy in 2010 that prevents undocumented students from attending the state’s top five public universities. The policy “is based on a misunderstanding of federal immigration law,” according to a letter from the ACLU to the Board of Regents.
Georgia is one of three states that exclude undocumented students from full access to higher education, even when the federal government recognizes the student’s right to be in the United States under Department of Homeland Security regulations. The other 47 states either apply no exclusion policies to such students or require them to pay out-of-state tuition.
Students and professors protested the state’s policy at a March 6 rally on the University of Georgia (UGA) campus. The rally was organized by Freedom University, which provides college-level classes for students who can’t enroll at UGA because of their undocumented status. Named after the “freedom schools” of the civil rights movement, Freedom University was started in 2011 by a group of professors at the request of undocumented students. It operates on the principle that “you can stop me from going to a UGA classroom, but you can’t stop a UGA professor from teaching me,” said Melissa Padilla, a 22-year-old Freedom University student who also serves as a representative on the organization’s board.
Freedom University doesn’t receive official funding, but donations of books and money poured in from all over the country when the group was launched. Every week, volunteers drive students to Freedom University classes. Padilla says that sort of support, and the determination of the students, makes her confident that Freedom University will keep going strong as the legal battle over education for the undocumented in Georgia continues.