The Journal caught up with the candidates at Southern Polytechnic State University, where they engaged in a debate Tuesday night.
Republican Sam Olens said Georgia law bars illegal immigrants from attending public universities.
"Absent a student visa, they should not be attending such institutions," he said.
Olens called on the Georgia Board of Regents, the body that governs Georgia's colleges and universities, to "immediately follow the law. Illegal immigrants have no right to attend the universities."
Olens said it is not acceptable to allow illegal immigrants to attend state universities even if they pay the higher out of state tuition rate.
"No. Illegal immigrants are not entitled to attend state universities, period," Olens said.
State Rep. Rob Teilhet (D-Smyrna) also believes Georgia law bars illegal immigrants from attending Georgia universities.
"In my opinion it does. Now, a similar federal law has been interpreted to mean they can attend, but just not receive student aid, but I don't agree with that interpretation. I think a public benefit includes public universities," Teilhet said.
If that's at all unclear, the Legislature needs to take steps to clarify the matter, he said.
"I think attendance at a public university is a public benefit and we said in the Legislature that illegal immigrants won't receive public benefits in the state of Georgia. Attendance at a university in my mind is clearly a public benefit that would be prohibitive," Teilhet said.
Teilhet noted that as a member of the General Assembly, he has consistently supported legislation to deny public benefits to illegal immigrants.
"While I do not believe that Georgia's law in this area is ambiguous, I would support attempts to clarify and strengthen it," he said.
Teilhet also took a jab at the Cobb Commission.
"It is also a violation of Georgia law to use illegal labor on public construction projects, which was recently discovered to be happening on Cobb County's new courthouse. To date, no penalties have been paid by the parties involved and no investigation has been initiated to get to the bottom of how this was allowed to happen," Teilhet said.
Republican Max Wood, a former U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, said it's his understanding of the law that illegal immigrants should not be attending Georgia schools either.
Wood said as attorney general he would use the position as a bully pulpit to push for some type of Arizona type law. Also, increasing the prosecution of crimes related to obtaining false documents, as he intends to do, would impact the illegal immigration population.
"We've got to quit rewarding improper behavior. If they have broken the law and they're in this country illegally except for essential medical services to help them live, they should not be allowed to have any social services," he said.
The problem at the federal level, Wood said, is that every congressman has a constituent group in their district that has an interest in open borders.
"If you're in South Georgia, you've got the agriculture interest. If you're in metro Atlanta, you have the construction industry or hotel/motel tourism industry. They want that cheap labor. We've got to realize our sovereignty as a country is more important than getting cheap food on the table or getting cheap garments on our back, and until we have the maturity as a country to recognize that, we're running the risk of losing everything. Look at what's happening in Europe," Wood said.
Attorney general candidate state Sen. Preston Smith (R-Rome) was absent from Tuesday's debate, but responded to questions from the Journal earlier in the day. The fifth candidate, Democrat Ken Hodges of Atlanta, a former district attorney, was also absent and did not respond to calls and emails for comment.
Smith said it has never made sense for the Board of Regents to allow an in-state tuition break to someone who asserts they are a "legal Georgia resident" when they are not even in the United States legally.
"Why should our public institutions officially welcome people to enroll who are fugitives from the United States Immigration service? Talk about government inefficiency where left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing," Smith said.
The federal government isn't serious about securing the borders and protecting citizens if the people it is supposed to be looking for are hiding in plain sight and registering with official state institutions, he said.
Smith asked why any Georgia resident should be told that universities are full when there are students enrolled who are in the country illegally.
"This problem is not merely solved by asking an illegal alien to pay out-of-state tuition rates. In addition to the tuition dollars, our public colleges and universities are subsidized with taxpayer funds and should be available to people who are legal citizens," he said.
"Certainly if a court rules that Georgia law allows illegal immigrants to attend public universities, then the Legislature should pass a law to clarify that they should not. As attorney general, I will work to always ensure that our immigration laws are enforced and that our public colleges and universities are available to our own citizens," Smith said.