Eight Arrested at Georgia Board of Regents Meeting over Undocumented Student Ban
(APN) ATLANTA — On Tuesday, May 15, 2017, eight activists including pastors, students, teachers, artists, and retired workers were arrested after disrupting a Georgia Board of Regents public hearing, where they demanded an end to banning undocumented students from enrolling in public universities in Georgia.
The eight community members arrested are: Rev. Jonathan Rogers, Pastor at UUCA; Laura Emiko Soltis, Freedom University; Greg Ames, Housing Justice League; Jennifer Merritt, Emory University graduate student; Eleanor Davis, Illustrator; J.T. Pennington, Georgia State University student; Richard Hunsinger, UGA graduate; and Rev. Jeffrey Jones, Pastor of Emerson Unitarian Universalist.
“Putting in place a ban in education and keeping a certain population disenfranchised, they are more easily exploitable, and a source of low wage labor,” Laura Emiko Soltis, who is a professor with Freedom University, told Atlanta Progressive News. Freedom University is an Atlanta-based school that provides undocumented students banned from public universities in Georgia tuition-free college level classes.
Rev. Jonathan Rogers, a pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, began the civil disobedience by standing up after the Pledge of Allegiance.
He then said: “‘Liberty and Justice for all’ are honorable ideals, but the Georgia Board of Regents transgresses them by banning undocumented students.”
He then proceeded to tell Board Members that this was segregation, and requested for the Board to repeal policies 4.1.6 and 4.3.4.
The bans in question make it impossible for undocumented students to enroll in the state’s top five public universities and prohibits them from qualifying for in-state tuition.
After the other members introduced themselves and spoke, they were, handcuffed, arrested and charged with disrupting a general assembly.
“It feels like the Board of Regents would rather punish pastors, artists, teachers, and students than really take a look at its policies banning undocumented students,” Soltis said.
“They don’t even want to hear the issues, hear the facts, they would rather just proceed with business as usual,” Soltis said.
Since 2011, when these bans were put in place, “an entire generation of young people are being banned from universities and funneled into low wage jobs,” Soltis said.
In the midst of persecution and fear of deportation, undocumented students protested in 2011 against the bans.
“The undocumented young people were the first to show us how to fight back,” Soltis said.
Many protests have taken place in the last six years and the undocumented students have shown the way.
These bans, Soltis added, also apply to students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a federal policy that grants work permits and driver’s licenses to young people who came to the U.S. as children and who meet certain criteria.
“With DACA you have a population of young people who can legally drive to low wage jobs, but are denied the right to education and the right to vote,” Soltis said, adding that Georgia is the only state in the U.S. to forbid students with DACA to enroll.
Atlanta Progressive News contacted various members of the Board of Regents, but was unable to interview any of them.
“I believe xenophobia and racism play a role in these bans,” Soltis said.
Alabama and South Carolina, the other two states in the entire country who have admissions bans against undocumented students, are also in the Deep South.
Some of the members of the Board of Regents have been appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal, who has shown his contempt for undocumented immigrants since when he was a Georgia legislator.
“U.S. immigration laws were established to protect residents of the United States, both native born and immigrants, from public health and safety threats, overcrowding, unemployment and severe straining of our public resources,” then-U.S. Rep Deal (R-GA) wrote in a constituent letter he published in his newsletter in 1999.
In April 2017, Governor Deal signed HB 37, the “Anti-Sanctuary Campus” bill into law.
By doing so, Gov. Deal made Georgia the first state to pass a law that punishes private universities for protecting undocumented students, by withholding state funding, etc.
Meanwhile, Emory University has taken the position of admitting undocumented students, charging in-state tuition rates, and meeting one hundred percent of the students’ financial needs.