FWD.us Statement on the Higher Education Committee Hearing on the Georgia Resident In-State Tuition Act (HB-120)

ATLANTA, GA – Last week, the Committee on Higher Education in the Georgia House of Representatives held a hearing on the Georgia Resident In-State Tuition Act (HB-120). This bipartisan legislation aims to strengthen Georgia’s workforce and economy by allowing young undocumented Georgians to qualify for in-state tuition at certain state colleges and universities.

Georgia is home to an estimated 21,000 Dreamers who grew up here, work in vital industries, and support our economy through state and local taxes and as members of the essential workforce responding to COVID-19. However, the current system only allows Dreamers to access out-of-state tuition rates, which is at least three times higher than the in-state cost to study at University System of Georgia schools.

Below are statements from FWD.us Georgia Immigration State Director Samuel Aguilar, FWD.us Immigration Associate Jaime Rangel and impacted individuals on the importance of supporting the Georgia Resident In-State Tuition Act to provide higher education opportunities to young undocumented Georgians:

FWD.us Georgia Immigration State Director Samuel Aguilar: “Friday’s hearing is a step in the right direction for our state. We applaud Chairman Martin and the Committee on Higher Education for considering the Georgia Resident In-State Tuition Act (HB-120), sending a clear message that Georgia lawmakers are ready to work on commonsense immigration solutions that benefit the entire state. This hearing showed that there is overwhelming bipartisan support, from legislators and community leaders, in favor of tuition equity for Georgia’s Dreamers. Expanding tuition equity for Georgia’s young immigrants will encourage talented and qualified young immigrants who want to build on their foundation here in Georgia to contribute even more to the diversity and innovation of our state’s economy. These young individuals can help strengthen our workforce and fill the gaps in key industries such as education, health care, and information technology. Today, we are encouraged by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who are fighting to expand opportunities for hardworking Dreamers while benefiting all Georgians. and look forward to continuing our work with Georgia leaders to pass this into law.”

DACA recipient and FWD.us Immigration Associate Jaime Rangel: “I am encouraged that the Higher Education Committee met to discuss the importance of providing young immigrants access to in-state tuition rates so they can continue their education in the state they’ve only ever known as home. This bill will level the playing field for Georgia Dreamers to attend college and greater participate in the state’s workforce, bringing with them diversity and ingenuity that the state needs to continue its competitive spirit. As a DACA recipient, I deeply understand the setbacks that come with the lack of tuition equity, and quite frankly, we are doing a disservice to all Georgians by investing in these young immigrants through high school, and then disregarding them right after. I encourage lawmakers to continue discussing this bill and its importance in strengthening Georgia’s economy and workforce.”

DACA Recipient, Surgical Tech, and Grammy Award-Winning Musician Israel Arce stated in a recent video on tuition equity: “I grew up in Roswell GA – went to middle school and high school there – and made plans with all my friends to continue to go to college, and so I went to Kennesaw State. I had to pay the international rate simply because of my status as an undocumented citizen. Thankfully, DACA helped me to seek an internship that really quickly became a job. I was training to be an x-ray tech during the mornings, and then in the evenings, I would go to anatomy class… Financially it just became unfeasible; It became quite a struggle. Since my first internship, I never stopped working in medicine. I currently work as a surgical tech where I assist a neurosurgeon… My goal is to work really hard and to integrate myself into the team and to be able to provide the best outcome that I can help provide. I get asked all the time especially in the medical field whether I will continue studying or not, and I can’t honestly answer that question because all the choices I’ve made, one way or another, have been shaped by the fact that I’m undocumented.”

Path Project Executive Director Jim Hollandsworth recently wrote an op-ed in the Georgia Recorder highlighting his experience working with young Georgia immigrants: “In 2011, I met a young man named Emmanuel who had recently begun attending our after-school programs at Path Project. When Emmanuel was six-years-old, his parents moved him from Mexico to the U.S. to provide a better life and education for their five children. As I got to know Emmanuel, I quickly realized he was a smart, honest and talented young man. He was an excellent soccer player for his high school team and, to this day, one of my favorite memories is seeing his parents on the field with him at Senior Night. In 2016, Emmanuel became the first person in his family to graduate high school. His long-time dream was to go to Gwinnett Tech where he could learn how to be a barber and open his own business. However, his status as a DACA recipient meant he had to pay out-of-state tuition to attend. This financial burden was too much for Emmanuel to overcome, so he never attended.

“Today, Emmanuel is a hardworking young man who loves his family, Georgia, and America. He works, pays taxes, has a driver’s license and is a positive member of our community. However, if in-state tuition was an option, he would have attended college to follow his dreams and make an even greater contribution as a small business owner. It’s my hope that someday he’ll be able to achieve this dream just like so many other young Americans.”

Additional quotes from the Higher Education Committee hearing by Chairman Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta), State Representative Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton) as well as Georgia education and immigration community leaders include:

State Representative Chuck Martin, Chairman of the House Higher Education Committee: “This should not be a partisan thing. We should find a way to do things [that are] good for the individual, good for the state taxpayer, good for the university and the technical college system and we don’t have to weaponize these individuals or the immigration system to do that.”

State Representative Kasey Carpenter, Sponsor of the Georgia Resident In-State Tuition Act: “This bill is about allowing Georgia taxpayers to pay a taxpayer rate to attend our colleges and universities… These individuals are Daltonians. They are our neighbors. We worship with them, we play football with them. It is not what has been portrayed. These are Georgians who through no fault of their own were brought here and this is a solution.”

Grace Kim, Legislative Services Associate, Georgia School Board Association: “Undocumented children who graduate from Georgia schools or have earned a Georgia GED are part of our community and should be treated as such. They and their families work and pay taxes in GA and should be treated with the same opportunities as Georgians to pay in state tuition. Removing financial barriers to higher education will even the playing field for these students and increase the number of skilled and professional employees in Georgia.”

David Casas, Community Engagement Director, Libre Initiative – Georgia: “Dreamers and all Georgians have continuously demonstrated an ability to greatly contribute to our communities and we simply desire to break down those barriers that prevent them from doing so… This will only help to further maximize their potential and future contributions to their state. They are Georgians and love living here. This is an opportunity that we have.”

The Georgia Resident In-State Tuition Act will grant in-state tuition to young undocumented immigrants who have established and maintained domicile in Georgia since January 1, 2013 or are the dependent of a parent who has established or maintained domicile in Georgia since January 1, 2013, and who have graduated from a Georgia high school or have a GED, among other requirements. Co-sponsors of the bill include State Representatives Dale Washburn (R-Macon), Mathew Gambill (R-Cartersville), Zulma Lopez (D-Atlanta), Bee Nguyen (D-Atlanta), and Wes Cantrell (R -Woodstock).

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