ATLANTA (AP) — A legislative committee chairman said Tuesday he's gotten about a thousand emails and a thousand phone calls on a bill to bar illegal immigrants from attending Georgia's state colleges, universities and technical schools and wants more time to consider differing viewpoints before allowing any vote.
House Higher Education Committee Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said after a committee meeting that he wants to consider communications from constituents and consult with the university system and the bill's sponsor. He anticipates a vote in two or three weeks.
The legislation would bar illegal immigrants from all 35 of Georgia's state colleges and universities, as well as the state's 25 technical schools. It passed out of the same committee last year but never made it to the House floor for a full vote. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Norcross, said the bill was pushed off until this year because the focus last year was on a broader, comprehensive crackdown on illegal immigration that passed and was signed into law.
The intent of the bill is to clarify the fact that postsecondary education is a public benefit and, consequently, should not be available to those who are in the country illegally, Rice said.
"Any situation in which there's a possibility of limiting the access for a Georgia citizen or a Georgia student to the university system in my estimation, and in what this bill says, ought to be restricted by the laws of Georgia," he said.
University system Chancellor Hank Huckaby told the committee that he does not believe the legislation is necessary, adding current board policy is sufficient.
"Even for those who are here through no fault of their own, it makes sense to me that we should educate them to the highest level possible," he said. "It helps our state economically, culturally, and educationally."
Technical College System of Georgia Commissioner Ronald Jackson echoed the chancellor's sentiments.
Already, illegal immigrants are effectively barred from the most competitive state schools by an October 2010 Board of Regents policy that prohibits any school that has rejected academically qualified applicants in the previous two years from accepting illegal immigrants.
That includes five Georgia colleges and universities: the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Georgia Health Sciences University and Georgia College & State University. Illegal immigrants may still be admitted to any other state college or university, provided that they pay out-of-state tuition.
The Regents conducted a study in summer 2010 amid public concerns that Georgia state colleges and universities were being overrun by illegal immigrants, that taxpayers were subsidizing their education and legal residents were being displaced. It found that less than 1 percent of the state's public college students were illegal immigrants, and that students who pay out-of-state tuition more than pay for their education.
The committee heard testimony from a long list of people, most of whom opposed the bill.
Keish Kim, 20, an illegal immigrant from Korea who lives in Roswell, told the committee she graduated from high school in 2009 and was accepted to several of the state's most competitive schools, but couldn't attend them because her family couldn't afford out-of-state tuition.
"I was very afraid and I was very upset because I just wanted to learn," she said in emotional testimony, adding that she watched her dreams of becoming a lawyer "fall to the ground."
Advocates both for and against the legislation had been urging their supporters to call and email members of the committee to voice their opinions ahead of Tuesday's meeting. A row of young people wearing a red fabric letter "U'' for "undocumented" pinned to their chests lined the back of the hearing room to protest the legislation. When Rogers asked for a show of hands of people who oppose the bill, almost every hand in the packed hearing room went up.