Protestors chanted “Undocumented! Unafraid!” on March 6 against the Board of Regents’ 2010 decision to ban undocumented students from enrolling in the top five research institutions in Georgia.
The Economic Justice Coalition and Freedom University both housed in Athens joined forces after the rally for the Lift the Ban movement addressing undocumented students banned from applying to the top five higher education institutions in Georgia.
The Economic Justice Coalition met to discuss joining forces with Freedom University on the Lift the Ban and Raise the Wages movements in Athens on March 21. Both groups anticipate that joining forces will create a bigger buzz on the two issues affecting Athens. The Executive Director of the Economic Justice Coalition Linda Lloyd plans to use grant money to fund both of the projects.
Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama ban students who cannot prove lawful United States citizenship from enrolling into certain universities within the states. Georgia’s ban prevents undocumented students from enrolling in the state’s top five research colleges that are the University of Georgia, Georgia College and State University, Georgia Institution of Technology, Georgia State University and Georgia Regents University.
Athens Technical College allows undocumented students to enroll. But state laws require undocumented students to pay international tuition fees according to the Vice President of Student Affairs at Athens Technical College, Andrea Daniel.
“If an international student does not provide proof of residency and lawful presence then they must pay four times the tuition rate,” Daniel said.
Representatives from Freedom University and the Economic Justice Coalition hope that the conjunction will create a large enough out cry to persuade the Board of Regents to lift the ban against undocumented students.
The issue of undocumented students ignited with the Jessica Colotl case. Colotl enrolled at Kennesaw State University in 2010 but sparked controversy after a traffic violation arrest. She was arrested for traffic violations and later for making false statements regarding her citizenship status and denied from attending classes during the case. The Economic Justice Coalition worked since 2006 to address local issues of immigrant rights.
The Economic Justice Coalition appointed a Latino Outreach coordinator. They organized an Immigration Rights march with 1,500 people in Athens, Georgia in the spring of 2006 and have worked with the local Latino community ever since.
The coalition organized English as Second Language training classes for day laborers in 2008. The classes helped Latino workers communicate with employers and opened up new job opportunities. The coalition developed a nonprofit business to give African-American and Latino day laborers employment.
Colotl’s case initiated the Georgia legislature to draft House Bill 59 and Senate Bill 458. The bills banned undocumented students from receiving post secondary institutions in the state of Georgia in 2011. The bill required students to pay out-of-state or international tuition rates for schools in the state. The March 6 rally held around the arch fell on the 30th day of Georgia’s legislature session. However, the topic of undocumented students was not considered during this year’s session.
Local school efforts ease the burden some undocumented students face. Athens Technical College supports international students in other ways besides financial hardships attendees face.
“International students have access to a host of support programs that all students use,” Daniel said. “ATC [Athens Technical College] offers free tutoring services, a host of student organizations are available for students to become involved with and Career Services are also available. There is an International Club on campus and this organization often works with Rotaract here at the College on International projects.”
However, the largest problem that enrolled undocumented students face is financial aid. The in-state full-time tuition rate at Athens Technical College is $1,455 compared to the international full-time rate of $5,820. The college addresses issues outside of financial ones due to strict limitations of state laws and the demographics they tend to recruit.
“We really aren’t aware of any issues on campus other than when students state they can’t qualify for financial aid,” Daniel said. “Athens Technical College exists primarily to serve Georgia citizens; therefore, non-resident students may enroll in classes on a space-available basis. They shall not displace students desiring to enroll who are legal, permanent residents of the state.”
The demographics of the college’s students are around three percent Asian and four percent Hispanic-Latino. However, Freedom University’s demographics are 100-percent undocumented students with most students coming from Latina and Hispanic backgrounds.
Freedom University began in 2011 to provide college-leveled classes to students regardless of citizenship status. Some UGA faculty agreed to volunteer teaching classes in undisclosed basements around Athens. Pam Voekel is one faculty volunteer. She spoke with an Athens-Banner Herald reporter about why she wanted to join the cause.
“We asked them as professors what we could do to help as part of that fight and they said well what you can do is teach a class,” Voekel said. “So what we decided to do is open something called Freedom University here in Athens and Freedom University is open to all students regardless of their immigration status or ability to pay.”
Freedom University provides more than education opportunities for the students that face issues outside of the classroom.
Freedom University officials assist students with filling out deferral forms allowed under the Obama administration in 2012. These deferrals allow students to attend schools under a two-year work visa at affordable cost. States like Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina are still hesitant to approve of these deferrals.
Linda Lloyd jumpstarted a partnership with Freedom University on March 21. Lloyd witnessed a movement to fight for undocumented students higher education access rights. She was inspired to help.
“I was so excited about Freedom University and that rally,” Lloyd said. “At least 200 students, they came and I was just impressed with the level of community organizing.”
The partnership between The Economic Justice Coalition and Freedom University centers around a grant the Economic Justice Coalition receives to fund movements like Lift the Ban.
“Right now we are working on the Resist Grant and Resist is a grant we have received since 2003 it was $3,000 but now it’s moving to $4,000 a year and we want to go ahead and do that grant around the UGA Living Wage and Lift the Ban,” Lloyd said.
Undocumented students attend classes today in the basements of Athens, Georgia. The Economic Justice Coalition, Freedom University and other activist groups are determined to see these students attend classes in the classrooms of schools like UGA one day.
Footage of some of the Economic Justice Coalition’s community board meeting on March 21 can be viewed on the video link below.