Students and Faculty Come Out Against HB 59 Amidst Fears of Funding Backlash

Although the bill to completely ban undocumented students from attending public universities was ultimately shelved last year, House Bill 59 has once again caused a stir from students and other opponents.

Sponsored by Rep. Tom Rice, R-Norcross, the bill would require the state’s 55 universities and technical colleges to check the immigration status of all applicants as a pre-requisite for enrollment.

A hearing on the bill last Tuesday by the House of  Higher Education Committee drew a large audience of protestors, including a group of undocumented students that testified how the bill would negatively impact their lives.

Although the committee held off voting on the bill to meet with college leaders, it will be eligible to clear committee as early as next week, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The bill is similar to an Oct. 2010 policy the University Board of Regents created that banned undocumented students from the top five most competitive universities in the state, including Georgia State.

That move met hardened resistance from student groups and faculty members from public universities across the state. The University of Georgia’s most senior legislative body, the University Council, adopted a resolution last December calling for a reversal of the board’s decision.

At present the Student Life and Development, Admissions and Standards and Faculty Affairs committees in Georgia State’s University Senate are considering adopting a very similar resolution addressed to the University System Chancellor.

“This is racist. This is segregation of the University System,” Ben Williams, University Senate member and SGA vice president of Student Life, said. “It’s saying – as it is now [with the Board of Regents policy] and with HB 59 – that you’re not worthy and we’re not going to validate you.”

“What is really terrifying is that HB 59 could have moved on Tuesday,” Williams said. “The concern now is that it’s going to move whether we like it or not.”

However, he also said that trying to fight the bill through official university channels might risk a financial backlash from the legislature.

“The legislature isn’t something we can really deal with. We’re not sending anything to them because that is too dangerous – especially with our funding.”

Williams said they should continue to fight similar policies at the Board of Regents level.

“The legislatures are off limits. The Board of Regents aren’t, but the legislature is. Because they are the people, if we fight against them it could result in a [backlash],” he said. “The only way Georgia State and all the other University System schools can continue to expand is with consistent funding.”

Other members of the University Senate are advising students to make their voices about the legislation heard in different ways. Olga Jarrett, the chair of the ad hoc committee, is one of those members. She is in charge of drafting the letter to the chancellor.

“Politically, I think it’s important for students to look online and email their legislators to tell why they think this legislation is so bad, ” Jarrett said.

When first proposed last year, the bill drew heavy criticism from immigrant rights supporters and education advocates, who held numerous rallies at the state capitol in opposition to the bill and others.

Students at Georgia State have mostly expressed a negative view of the bill.

Hospitality major Tamesha Childs said that the bill would send a negative message to both legal and undocumented students.

“If you’re here trying to get an education or something good, why force you out? Because they’re paying for education too,” Childs said.

Carl Kananda, a junior chemistry major, also said the bill is not fair to the potential students that would be affected.

“Everyone has a right to education regardless of his or her origins. Anyone who is willing to participate in school should be allowed to,” Kananda said.

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