Latino civil rights organization sues in Georgia for in-state tuition for deferred action students

The Mexican American Defense and Educational Fund filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday against the University System of the Georgia regents and university officials for refusing to allow immigrants with deportation deferrals to pay in-state tuition.

The lawsuit accuses the University of Georgia system of violating the Supremacy and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

"In an era when too many purported leaders maliciously target hardworking immigrants prepared to contribute to our nation's future success, this Georgia university policy is antithetical to the state's own interests," said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel. "The policy is also unlawful, and this suit promises to reopen the doors of higher education to some of the state's best and brightest students."

The system’s board of regents has decided that students awarded deportation deferrals through the 2012 Deferred Action through Childhood Arrivals program, known by the acronym DACA, are not lawfully present.

Under federal law, deferred action recipients are lawfully present and permitted to remain in the United States for a certain period of time during which they may be granted federal employment authorization and a Social Security number.

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"Discrimination in access to higher education isn't just a concern for one group of people; it hurts all Georgians," said attorney Nathan Horsley of Horsley Begnaud. "We are fighting this ill-conceived and unconstitutional policy because the very people who are being denied an equal opportunity to learn are the same people who will drive Georgia's economic growth in the new century. The people of Georgia deserve better."

The complaint, filed in Atlanta, names individual regents and presidents of colleges and universities in the system, because Georgia Supreme Court dismissed an earlier suit against the system as a whole. Thirty-one colleges and universities make up the system.

Currently, DACA recipients are allowed to receive driver’s licenses and considers them lawfully present, it also allows other non-citizens to pay in-state tuition.

Two students from Perimeter College in Alpharetta, Georgia, Lorena Guillen and Karla Lopez, have been named as plaintiffs along with Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights.
According to MALDEF’s complaint, Guillen has restricted her major because her out-of-state tuition is too high for her to afford, and she is considering dropping out.

Lopez is a pre-med student, but she has limited her credit hours due to costs, meaning it will take more than four years to get her bachelor’s degree.

Undergraduate out-of-state tuition for fall and spring 2015 was $13,384. In-state tuition is $4,279 for the same time.

MALDEF has litigated to defend the rights of deferred action recipients in many contexts, including with regard to employment, driver's licenses, and in-state tuition.

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