Democrats’ bill would keep colleges open to immigrants

Democratic leaders in the state Senate are sponsoring legislation that would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to continue attending Georgia’s public colleges.

The Democratic senators said they were drafting their bill in response to legislation introduced by Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) and supported by Republican leaders – SB 170 – that would make undocumented aliens ineligible for government benefits such as in-state tuition to public colleges.

“It’s very dangerous for a political body to use an institution of higher learning as a solution for public policy,” said Sen. Sam Zamarripa (D-Atlanta), the first Hispanic elected to the Georgia Senate. “You would punish the best and brightest of these kids.”

Zamarripa is sponsoring the bill along with Sen. Tim Golden (D-Valdosta), the chairman of the Senate’s Democratic Caucus, and Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna), whose Cobb County district includes a significant Latino population.

Their bill would give the Board of Regents “exclusive authority to establish admission and residency requirements for institutions within the University System.”

“The regents should set admissions standards, not the General Assembly,” Golden said. “I believe very strongly in academic freedom and I believe very strongly the Board of Regents should have autonomy (to set admissions standards for Georgia’s colleges).”

The Democratic senators will also introduce a resolution urging Congress to handle immigration reform through the adoption of federal legislation.

“Personally, I feel the immigration system is broken, but this is a federal matter, not a state matter,” Golden said. “The system is broken, it needs to be fixed, but federal fixed, not state fixed.”

“If you really want to deal with immigration, you’ve got to deal with employment,” said Stoner, a small business owner. “That’s what is bringing them to this country.”

If the children of immigrants are not able to attend college, “you’re talking about a great recruitment tool for gangs,” Stoner said.

Rogers introduced SB 170 last session and will try to bring it up for a Senate vote in the upcoming legislative session. He has estimated that the provision of government services to undocumented aliens is costing the state $1 billion or more a year.

“If we wait for the federal government to solve Georgia’s problems we’ll be waiting for an eternity,” Rogers said. “We’ve got to solve Georgia’s problems.”

Rogers contended that the bill proposed by the Democrats “is a very dangerous piece of legislation” because it would conflict with a federal law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

“I am disappointed in the lack of leadership offered today by the Minority party in the Senate,” Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) said. “Illegal immigration is an issue that affects every taxpayer in Georgia. Rather than joining Republicans in tackling the issues that can be addressed by the state, Democrats would rather stick their head in the sand and ignore the problem and rely on somebody else to do their job.”

Immigration reform is expected to be one of the major issues considered during the General Assembly session that convenes in January.

The immigration issue was raised at a campaign event held Thursday at Georgia State University by Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, a Democratic candidate for governor. Taylor was asked by reporters if he supported or opposed the proposal to prevent undocumented immigrants from attending public colleges.

“The people of Georgia deserve to have an accessible and affordable college education system,” Taylor replied. “I want to protect the Hope Scholarship.”

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Tags: politics