Extending a ladder of opportunity to immigrant students
By Guest Columnist AISHA YAQOOB MAHMOOD, executive director of Asian American Advocacy Fund
Society teaches us that education is the most powerful tool in providing people with the knowledge to better their lives. What if barrier upon barrier were put in front of this ladder of opportunity? This is the reality of many immigrant students who seek higher education. Immigrants looking to invest their talents and hard work at pursuing their own version of the American Dream have been pushed away.
Progress is being made at Georgia’s state Legislature with House Bill 932, which would offer in-state tuition to refugees, special immigrants, and humanitarian parolees immediately upon arrival. Presently, they must abide by a one-year waiting period after settling in Georgia to establish residency and qualify for the lower in-state tuition rates. Additionally, Senate Bill 460 would extend in-state tuition to students with DACA status, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
While these bills are by no means a comprehensive solution to education inequities, if passed, they are a step forward. We can ensure that Georgia’s future is bright and that all communities thrive by advocating for legislation that affords all Georgia students the same opportunity to pursue an education at any university within the state of Georgia.
Many immigrant students are eager to start or restart their schooling right away. Waiting a year after settling in Georgia is a massive setback. Additionally, students with DACA and other undocumented students have limited options for the public institutions they can attend. They are barred from Georgia’s top research universities, including the University of Georgia and the Georgia Institute of Technology. These students cannot receive HOPE or Zell Miller Scholarships, are ineligible for federal loans, and must pay out-of-state tuition rates. These financial barriers pile on top of the challenges of being a student with DACA or undocumented and set our future scholars up for failure.
HB 932 is not the first bill of its kind. Just last year, House Bill 120, which would have provided conditions for DACA recipients to receive in-state tuition at non-research universities in Georgia, was introduced at Georgia’s Legislature but failed to pass. During recent hearings, we have heard from impacted community members who bravely shared their stories in support of HB 932 and HB 120. These students mentioned exhausting their resources and working multiple jobs to afford tuition. One student had to delay education for five years due to a lack of resources and federal assistance. Having access to in-state tuition would have changed the college experience, affording more of a chance to focus on education rather than financial challenges.
While personal testimony offers insight into the lived experiences of the very people that bills such as HB 932, HB 120, and SB 460 would impact, we cannot keep asking our immigrant communities to lay out their traumas and experiences to ask for their humanity to be recognized. It’s imperative that we continue to fight for legislation that makes college accessible and equitable for all, including people with DACA and other undocumented individuals. In the state of Georgia, the undocumented population is left with little to no choices after their K-12 education. These students are often left with holding the burden of debt due to out-of-state tuition costs – or without access to upward economic mobility. All immigrant students deserve the same access to education as anyone else.
Organizations including the Asian American Advocacy Fund are taking a stand to support expanding access to in-state tuition and are committed to pushing for wider and more inclusive expansion. More information on how to take action and support bills including HB 932 and SB 460 can be found at AAAF’s social media platforms @AsianAAF (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook). HB 932 and SB 460 are important steps in the right direction. A diverse, forward-looking, inclusive Georgia is a Georgia where all students have the opportunity to pursue higher education within our state. Extending the ladder of higher education to immigrant students brings us closer to a Georgia where all can thrive.