The immigration debate in many states has centered on immigrant services. In Georgia, a surprise court decision suggests the state should allow residents who have avoided deportation to receive in-state tuition.
A report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution stated a judge in Fulton County ruled the state must allow residents who were granted a special reprieve from deportation to receive in-state tuition at universities and colleges in the state.
The ruling by Fulton Superior Court Chief Judge Gail Tusan was released in the last days of the Obama administration. The judge said the state improperly refused to extend in-state tuition to the group. However, the people in question were declared “legally present” in the United States.
The plaintiff in the case was Rigoberto Rivera. He was brought to the United States as a child from Mexico.
For years Rivera and fellow plaintiffs waged a legal battle that made it all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court. However, their fight is not over.
Ten recipients of DACA recipients living in Georgia sued the Board of Regents in Fulton County Superior Court. They claimed they were entitled to the ability to pay the in-state rate which is more affordable than out-of-state tuition.
Rivera said he may now apply to Georgia State University to study political science and criminology.
The ruling comes nearly four years after Rivera and fellow plaintiffs began their legal odyssey, which at one point reached the Georgia Supreme Court. But the legal battle is not over.
The Board of Regents is planning to appeal the judge’s decision. The Superior Court’s decision remains on hold during the appeals process.
The other big uncertainty for the DACA recipients is whether President Donald Trump will extend the program.
The case relates to a state law from almost a decade ago that says noncitizens cannot pay the in-state rate for tuition unless they are “legally in this state.” The plaintiffs pointed to federal records that say recipients of DACA are lawfully present in the U.S. The abolition of DACA would undermine that status for the plaintiffs and other undocumented immigrants who have hitherto benefitted from DACA.
Sen. Josh McKoon, a Republican from of Columbus, pledged to file a countermeasure in the General Assembly. His bill would prohibit anyone who lacks legal status from paying in-state tuition at public colleges. In-state tuition is thousands of dollars less than out-of-state rates.
DACA gave work permits to immigrants brought to the U.S. as children without authorization. It also gave them a temporary relief from deportation.
The “lawful presence” element was inherent to the ruling. Judge Tusan wrote officials at the University of Georgia were compelled to perform their duty in line with the federal definition of lawful presence.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says five states including Texas, offer state financial assistance to undocumented immigrants. However, Texas does not have a law that codifies it.