Undocumented students from Freedom University linked arms and raised fists with documented students from University of Georgia, Georgia State and Emory University to silently protest the Board of Regents Policy 4.1.6 – a law which bans undocumented students from Georgia public universities.
The law, instituted by the University System of Georgia in 2011, prohibits undocumented students from attending public universities regardless of the students’ residential status, academic standing or status as a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which issues undocumented students a renewable deferred action status if they arrive in the United States as a minor . Access to in-state tuition is also prohibited.
About 20 undocumented students stood next to their documented-student allies in the front and to the sides of the room a few minutes after the Board of Regents’ meeting started on Tuesday morning, Nov. 10. Initially, College sophomore Samantha Keng said that they were ignored, and the roughly dozen members of the board continued with the meeting without addressing the protestors.
College sophomore Jonathan Peraza commented that the discomfort in the room was ever-present.
“The audience would look at us, make eye contact and they would look away,” Peraza said. “It was especially hard for them to look at us.”
Peraza said, despite the discomfort, only a few of the approximately 75 members in the audience approached them. They saw that the board members, after noticing the numbers “4.1.6” taped over the undocumented students’ mouths, whispered to each other and Googled the numbers on their phones, according to Keng.
“To me, it’s sad that the people who make the policies in Georgia don’t know it,” Keng said. “They have to Google it? Why are you making them if you don’t know what you’re talking about?”
The protestors stood silently, unchanging through the breaks in the meeting. When the meeting reconvened, the Board of Regents passed a new rule that everyone in the meeting must be in a seat.
“[They told us] if you don’t have a seat, you can’t be in the room, which was a clear shot at us because none of us had a seat,” Keng said.
After approximately forty minutes, Georgia Patrol, police from the capital and building security arrived at the meeting, and the students were asked to leave. The students complied, and no arrests took place.
Both Peraza and Keng said that they also were struck by the demographics of the room.
“It is a room of old white men, and it’s scary to me that they’re the ones making decisions about education in Georgia,” Keng said. “But it also makes total sense that the reason why the ban exists is because it was [from] a room full of white men calling the shots.”
College junior Lamija Grbic and College senior Nowmee Shehad complimented Emory’s policies in dealing with undocumented students as a private university. However, both felt that other universities should change their policies.
“We are proud of what Emory has done in recognizing undocumented students and providing them with financial aid, but the issue is a lot larger than Emory and Georgia,” Grbic said. “We want to do whatever it takes to be supportive of undocumented students until their rights are fully recognized in the state.”