Six demonstrators were arrested Monday night at the University of Georgia after staging a sit-in to protest the Board of Regents’ ban on undocumented students at UGA and requirement that they pay out-of-state tuition at colleges where they can enroll.
The demonstrators started their sit-in around 2:30 p.m., participating in classes taught by Freedom University, a group that offers college-level courses to students who are denied admission to UGA and other schools based on their immigration status.
"I find it hard that undocumented students can't attend the top five universities, so I came here to use my privilege to try to help them," said Felix Linza, a UGA business management major and a member of the Undocumented Student Alliance.
Around 6:30 p.m., campus police became aware of the protesters when a pizza delivery triggered a door alarm.
Roughly 40 protestors participated in the sit-in until Chief of Police Jimmy Williamson officially ordered the New College building vacated. Six protestors remained in the building until 8:30 p.m., when campus police began removing the demonstrators in handcuffs two at a time.
Sarah Chico, Carrie Freshour, Jonathan Garcia, Emma Krass, Yineira Lopez and Jhoanna Padron were arrested on charges of criminal trespassing. They have since bonded out of jail.
"I support my friends, and they have the same right to attend Georgia universities as I do,” said Chico, 21, of Atlanta.
The UGA sit-in was intended to commemorate the Feb. 1, 1960 Greensboro, NC lunch counter sit-ins, but coincidentally the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday that undocumented students are not entitled to in-state rates even if they’re Georgia residents.
“Ultimately the goal is to remove the BOR policy 4.16 and have undocumented and documented students be able to attend classes together—admissions should be based on merit,” said Sarah Mirza, executive assistant for Freedom University. “The Supreme Court decision from this morning is disheartening but this wasn't based on that. These are motivated students that are academically on par with students at UGA, yet policy 4.16 prevents them from coming here. They have to pay out-of-state prices to attend schools they’re overly qualified to attend.”
Board of Regents policy 4.16 bans undocumented students from attending Georgia’s five competitive-enrollment universities, while policy 4.13 prevents undocumented students whose families have lived and paid taxes in Georgia from paying in-state tuition at open-enrollment public colleges, such as the University of North Georgia.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit—many of whom were brought to the U.S. as small children and have lived here most of their lives—argued that they are lawful residents under the Obama Administration’s deferred-action immigration policy (DACA). However, courts ruled that the Board of Regents has sovereign immunity and can’t be sued.
“We want to get the word out this isn't only a problem for just Georgia, but the nation as a whole,” said Salvador Alvarado, 21. “These students are academically eligible, but are being denied their right to an education.”
Alvarado said he was born in El Salvador. When he was 7, his mother fled from domestic violence and what he described as “a country infested with gang violence…. She came to the U.S., where she could save her life and save her children. She gave us a better future.
“I started school here in first grade,” he said. “It’s a failure to not allow us to continue our education. We pay taxes. I worked hard, have the grades and pay taxes. Why would you block me from coming to school here? Education is a right that any one deserves. The [United Nations] says that education should be based on merit and not [immigration] status. I want to contribute to the economy.”