The committee's recommendation will be considered by the full Board of Regents on Oct. 13. If approved, it would go into effect for the 35-institution university system in the fall of 2011.
Presently, University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State, the Medical College of Georgia, and Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville are the only state institutions known to deny academically eligible students because of space. Under the committee's proposal, even if they paid out-of-state tuition, illegal immigrants would not be allowed to attend one of those five universities, or, in the future, any other college or university where academically eligible Georgians were turned away. The 29 students who attend those five institutions and are in the U.S. illegally would be allowed to remain at their schools under a grandfather clause.
The 130,000-student university system allows illegal immigrants to attend a Georgia university provided they pay out-of-state tuition. The proposed policy would still allow illegal immigrants to pay out-of-state tuition to attend such universities as Kennesaw State, which does not turn away any students as long as they meet admissions standards, said Regents spokesman John Millsaps.
The committee's recommendation came after staff informed members that there are 501 students in the University System of Georgia who have not provided documentation that they are a legal U.S. resident. Of those, there are 17 at Kennesaw State and 11 at Southern Polytechnic State University, Millsaps said. All 501 students now pay out-of-state tuition.
The special committee was created after it was learned that KSU student Jessica Colotl is an illegal immigrant who has been paying in-state tuition since 2006.
Regent Larry Walker, an attorney with Walker, Hulbert, Gray & Byrd, who served in the Georgia General Assembly for more than 30 years, warned of legislative backlash if the committee didn't approve the proposal.
"It shows our concern in this particular area, concern for our citizens," Walker said. "It'd be mighty, mighty hard for me if I had a son or a daughter or grandson or granddaughter that couldn't get in to Georgia, and I found out the reason they couldn't get in was because somebody who was illegally in the country did get in."
But Regent Felton Jenkins of Madison, a retired partner with King & Spalding, urged the committee to vote against the recommendation.
"I think we need to do what's right and not necessarily what's expedient, and I just don't think it's right to turn down qualified people," Jenkins said.
Jenkins said he too believed there would be upcoming legislative action on the matter of illegal immigrants attending Georgia schools.
"We'll have the chance at that point to negotiate with whoever's introducing the legislation to maybe end up at a place like this. But I think if we start off at a place like this, we're giving up some control ... And I don't want to make that admission," Jenkins said.
State lawmakers decide if illegal immigrants can attend universities in their state.
The five Board of Regents members on the committee in attendance on Tuesday, except Jenkins, voted in favor of the proposal. Six committee members, who are employees of the university system, abstained.
Another recommendation, approved without objection, was to add a statement on all college or university applications that warns of the consequences of providing false information. The statement states that false swearing may result in dismissal, a fine of up to $1,000, or jail time of between one and five years per Georgia law.
A third committee recommendation, approved without objection, was to include a statement on college applications asking whether the applicant wants to seek in-state tuition. Presently, an applicant is simply asked if he or she is a Georgia resident. If the applicant wants in-state tuition, the university will be required to verify that they are a resident of the state.
After the meeting, Chancellor Erroll Davis said lawmakers intent on drafting legislation on illegal immigrants in Georgia's schools need to know that it's not a problem.
"I'd ask them - do the numbers merit their efforts?" Davis said.
At the same time, Davis said he didn't know how far the committee's recommendations would go to satisfy Georgians.
"I am hopeful that as you listen to the articulated concerns earlier, one, there was a concern about large numbers of students in the system. This is not true," Davis said. "There was a concern about them being subsidized, getting a state subsidized education. This is not true. We are in fact making money. And thirdly, there was the concern about taking seats away from qualified Georgians. We have now addressed that issue. And so I am now not sure what issues you would put forward to preclude human beings from getting an education. And I'm not going to suggest what the mind of any legislator will put forward at this point, but I believe we have addressed every issue that has been surfaced in the public."
But anti-illegal immigration activist D.A. King of Marietta accused the committee members of acting in bad faith.
"They voted to possibly, maybe, exclude illegal aliens from schools that can't accept all the people who apply, but they did not do it to protect real immigrants or citizens," King said. "They did it so that the Legislature couldn't get into their business and make them do something."
King said the argument about there being a very small number of illegal immigrants using Georgia universities was unacceptable.
"For most of us, if one American or one real immigrant is cheated out of a classroom seat by an illegal alien or a Board of Regents who is terrified to do the right thing, then it's too many," King said.
On the national front, meantime, the so-called "DREAM Act" is apparently dead for the time being. The DREAM Act would allow illegal immigrants who are students to become permanent residents of the U.S. if they came here as children, are long-term U.S. residents, have good moral character, and attend college or enlist in the military for at least two years. It would also give such students eligibility for higher education benefits based on state residence unless a U.S. national is similarly eligible without regard to such state residence. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was expected to try to attach it to the defense authorization bill this week, but he failed to get cloture on the motion to proceed to the defense bill Tuesday afternoon. Therefore, there is currently no timetable for consideration, according to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson's office.
"The DREAM Act would reward those who have obtained an education in a system in which they have not contributed," Isakson said. "While I understand the complex details of students who are seeking financial assistance for educational purposes who were brought to this country by their parents without a choice, I am not supportive of programs that reward illegal activity. I also would not support legislation that will pay for the education of an illegal immigrant when there are thousands of United States citizens who are in need of similar educational funds."