State Rep. David Wilkerson (D-Austell), who joined her Thursday night at a town hall meeting at the South Cobb Community Center where she announced her proposal, said he agrees with her.
Morgan told the group of about two dozen people that she came up with the idea after meeting with students at Pebblebrook High School who participated in a walk-out last year.
“As I listened to these students, who are 3.8 GPA students, doing very well in school, and there are a couple of them who are about to graduate, once they graduated from high school they actually have no options in terms of college,” Morgan said. “Why? Because they’re undocumented.”
The illegal immigrants are not eligible to pay in-state tuition, she said.
“If you cut off that potential at the end of high school, and they have no other options, what are they supposed to do?” Morgan asked. “Where do they work? Where do they live? How do they pay taxes? How do they give back to society? These are kids who are brought here at 3 or 4 years old who consider themselves American by culture. They don’t know anything about the country that their parents are from. And so we’re penalizing these kids who have worked hard, who have gone through our school systems, who have earned their grades, and we are cutting them off in terms of college accessibility. We’re not asking for special privileges. They’ve been a resident.”
Morgan asked the audience to raise their hands if they were in support of her filing a bill to allow for illegal immigrants to be eligible for in-state tuition. When she asked the audience to raise their hands if they opposed her filing such a bill, no one did.
“Well if I was ever wondering if I should do something about it, I think I just got some confirmation,” Morgan said.
Wilkerson said such a bill, if signed into law, would cut down on high school dropouts.
“I think it’s a great opportunity because what’s happening right now is you are seeing children that are doing well in school get to be about 12, 13, 14 and then they realize there’s nothing for them after that, so why even go to school?” Wilkerson said. “So if they’re going to be here, then educate them or give them that opportunity. But at the end of the day the federal government has to do something about it.”
In 2006, state Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) passed the Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act, which said in part that illegal immigrants couldn’t attend state public universities, said immigration activist D.A. King, president of the Cobb-based Dustin Inman Society. In 2010, King filed a complaint, saying the Georgia Board of Regents were ignoring this law. King said the Regents made a compromise by banning illegal immigrants from attending five Georgia universities that send out rejection letters because of full classrooms, such as Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, but King said the Regents continue to allow illegal immigrants to attend other universities and technical schools provided they pay out-of-state tuition. So last year, state Rep. Tom Rice (R-Gwinnett) filed HB 59, a bill that would strengthen Rogers’ original legislation. That bill has yet to be approved.
King, who was not at the meeting, seized on Morgan’s comment about illegal immigrants not being able to work because they were deprived of higher education.
“Where are they going to work?” King asked. “They can’t legally work. They are illegal aliens.”
Like the majority of Georgians, King said his compassion is more directed at the hopeful young U.S. citizens and legal immigrants watching jobs, benefits and services go to illegal immigrants who escaped capture at the country’s borders.
“The idea that we should force weary taxpayers to take another hit in the wallet to subsidize a college education for students who are ineligible for employment upon graduation is an extreme and mindless concept. Even if there were a surplus of jobs,” King said.
King said he couldn’t help but feel sympathy for the illegal immigrants who were used as “an enforcement shield by their conniving and shameless parents when brought here in violation of our immigration laws. They are clearly the victims of child abuse by those fugitive parents.”
He gives HB 59 a much better chance of becoming law than Morgan’s proposal seeing a committee vote.
“It may be all the rage in what remains of California, but I will watch with amusement while such a bill gathers dust and ridicule under the Gold Dome,” King said. “Let’s all say ‘transparent pandering’ together. In English.”
Morgan said she hasn’t decided whether to address the matter in the form or a bill or a resolution.
“We’re in the process now of doing the research,” she said. “There are lots of states that have already done it. Some are considering it.”
Morgan also said she expected there to be backlash to her proposal from “people who are more concerned about the issue of immigration and not focused on education and the potential of students.”
She told the audience that she has long wished for a legislator exchange program to give lawmakers a more rounded experience of what communities are like that they don’t represent.
“I hate to say this, but I think about Newt Gingrich and some of the things that he says. It’s like, do you know any black people?” Morgan said. “There’s a clip on TV where he’s saying he would go and talk to the NAACP and talk about pay checks instead of food stamps. It’s like, do you understand? Are you sensitive to the people of this country, not just the three or four folks that you know who hang out at the country club with you, but real people, and that’s I think one of the biggest challenges we face in the legislature. Until you have the experience yourself I think you are less likely to understand the experiences of someone else.”