The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled against a group of immigrant students who sued to gain access to in-state college tuition on Oct. 25.
The students filed a petition in Fulton County Superior Court last April requesting the court order the Board of Regents to allow recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to pay in-state tuition at their colleges and universities.
DACA — an executive order passed during the Obama administration — grants protection from deportation and lawful presence to immigrants who came to the U.S. at a young age.
Currently, DACA recipients who want to attend college in Georgia must pay out-of-state tuition.
The University System of Georgia policy manual has two eligibility requirements for in-state tuition: the student has to live in Georgia for at least 12 months prior to starting classes, and he or she must be “lawfully present” in the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security’s website says DACA recipients are considered “lawfully present,” and because of this, the students argued that they meet the requirements for in-state tuition.
“It’s important to note that the website for the Department of Homeland Security mentions that DACA recipients have lawful presence in this country,” said Raymond Partolan, an immigration paralegal at Kuck Immigration Partners, the firm that represented the students in court.
“It’s important because, essentially, the Board of Regents policy says if you can prove lawful presence in the state of Georgia, and you hold all of the other residency requirements, then you’re eligible for in-state tuition,” he added.
According to the Associated Press, the appeals court said the DHS website is not enforceable federal law and that the university system’s policies do not require it to grant DACA students in-state tuition because of their lawful presence.
“When you see the Board of Regents give tuition waivers away to students in other states to attend Georgia colleges, it’s just a slap in the face for us,” said Ivan Morales, a student at Georgia Gwinnett College and one of the plaintiffs in the case.
Morales, 23, is a DACA student recipient majoring in psychology and minoring in business administration. He immigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was seven years old and has been living in Georgia ever since.
An activist for the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance, Morales has been involved in the case since 2014. He hopes to take the case back to the Supreme Court for a more favorable ruling.
“I think this decision is a step backward for the state of Georgia and the country,” Morales said.
Partolan said this lawsuit is to simply convince the state to follow its own policy manual. A DACA recipient himself, Partolan said he’s hopeful that the fight will continue after this ruling.
Charles H. Kuck, managing partner at Kuck Immigration Partners, said he plans to appeal the case to the Georgia Supreme Court.