Georgia’s immigration law targets universities

A crackdown on undocumented students deflects attention from the state's enemies of higher education VIDEO

Topics: Immigration, Georgia, Rep. John Lewis,

Georgia's immigration law targets universities Rep. John Lewis (Credit: AP)

When the state of Arizona enacted a draconian anti-immigrant law — which gave the police wide powers to detain individuals they believed to be undocumented immigrants — nearly two years ago, the national media took notice. Activists campaigned against the law and tried to shame the state into submission, with Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha even getting dozens of musicians to sign on to a boycott of performances in the state.

Yet soon after Arizona’s law passed, similar anti-immigrant legislation began appearing in legislatures across the nation. Partially coordinated by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative advocacy group funded in part by private prisons, states from coast to coast initiated their own crackdowns.

In Georgia, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal signed a copycat bill into law in 2011, making his state the third to give police such wide powers to investigate the immigration status of suspected undocumented immigrants. “This legislation I believe is a responsible step forward in the absence of federal action,” said Deal.

The Arizona-like law had a decidedly detrimental effect on the state’s economy. One survey conducted during the summer of 2011 found that there was a shortage of at least 11,000 farmworkers in Georgia. The Georgia Agribusiness Council said that the state’s farms were left “with 30 percent fewer workers on average.” “We don’t need to stall the largest economic engine in this state and we don’t need to scare off our workforce,” warned Zippy Duvall of the Georgia Farm Bureau.

Yet Georgia went much further than many other red states in making the lives of undocumented immigrants uncomfortable. In 2010, the state’s major public universities were ordered to do an audit of all their students to identify undocumented immigrants. Then in October, the state’s board of regents voted 14-2 to effectively ban undocumented immigrants from attending Georgia’s five major public universities, citing concerns about space not being available for documented students. This policy was enacted on top of the fact that Georgia already barred undocumented students from getting in-state tuition.

The policy ended up harming one of the state’s treasured institutions — college football — in a way that the board of regents likely did not expect. Last month, high school football star Chester Brown of Hinesville, Ga., had a rude awakening. For months, he was courted by the University of Georgia football team to join its legendary football program. He even got a UGA tattoo on his left forearm. But the October 2010 vote made it so that the Samoan-born athlete would automatically be denied admission to UGA. Now Brown is likely to be recruited by big-name schools out of state.

A group of five professors at the University of Georgia decided that they weren’t going to take part in the state’s process of immiserating the lives of undocumented students. Shortly after the closed-door policy began, they started what they called “Freedom University,” where they secretly offered these students courses. “This is not a substitute for letting these students into UGA, Georgia State or the other schools,” said Pam Voekel, a history professor. “It is designed for people who, right now, don’t have another option.”

Some of Georgia’s far-right lawmaker want to go even further. Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers is sponsoring a bill, S.B. 458, that would ban undocumented immigrants from attending all public Georgia colleges and universities.

In one sense, the bill is itself targeting a supposed problem — undocumented immigrants taking up space in classrooms that legal residents can’t have — that really doesn’t exist. According to an audit conducted by the University System of Georgia, which oversees the state’s public universities, there are only 300 undocumented students out of the system’s 318,000 total population. And there is little evidence that allowing undocumented immigrants to go to college would be a drain on taxpayers. After all, college graduates earn more money than non-graduates, and thus are much more likely to contribute more in taxes and be a boon, not a burden, to the public treasury.

That’s why looking at S.B. 458 as a flawed policy solution would be a mistake. The state Legislature has already proved that it has little concern with guaranteeing equity in education to Georgia’s residents. In early 2011 it enacted a series of major cuts to the state’s widely praised tuition subsidy program. The result has been a dramatic reduction in public aid to students across the state, with African-American students facing some of the worst cutbacks.

S.B. 458 does not seek to improve higher education in Georgia but rather to deflect attention from those who seek to harm it. By attacking undocumented immigrants and falsely portraying them as a drain on the system and taking the slots that legal residents deserve, the state Legislature is trying to distract the public from looking at the real culprits of Georgia’s educational and social welfare woes: politicians who have been gutting education spending.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed S.B. 458, and it will now move on to the full Senate. It is still unclear as to whether the radical legislation will make it into law. Deal is signaling that he is undecided about the bill.

The day after the bill was passed out of committee, the Georgia Latino Elected Officials organization sought out civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., to comment about the bill GALEO is calling the “Anti-DREAM” Act. Lewis, of course, is no stranger to the politics of hate and political distraction that are underlying the push for the bill.

“I would say to the students and to all of the young people, not to give up,” replied Lewis. “Another generation of young people, another generation of young people stood up. We created a mass movement … I think it’s a shame and a disgrace for the state of Georgia to move down that road.”

If Georgians don’t want to continue to see their state’s undocumented population turned into political punching bags, with even students simply seeking a decent education being stripped of their rights and liberties, it may be time for them to take Lewis’ advice, and, as he put it, “make some trouble. Good trouble.”

Zaid Jilani is a Syracuse University graduate student and freelance writer. Follow him @zaidjilani.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.


    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."


    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>