Update 2:00 p.m.
A spokesman for the Board of Regents declined to comment on the litigation to Grady Newsource, but sent the following statement.
“Our policy was adopted several years ago to mirror a new state law. That law required public higher education – including the University System – to ensure that only students who could demonstrate lawful presence were eligible for certain benefits, including in-state tuition. That law remains in effect, and, therefore, so will our policy.”
Original article 11:00 a.m.
ATLANTA — The Georgia Supreme Court decided Monday morning that a group of students in the United States illegally may not sue the Georgia Board of Regents in an attempt to get in-state tuition rates.
But, minutes later, Charles Kuck, the lawyer for the students, announced he will file a new suit in state court against individual Board members, instead of the Board as a whole.
He said today’s ruling has a broader impact on Georgia law and the way the Board of Regents operates.
“When did we start allowing unelected governing officials to make law, interpret it how they want to, and then have no redress for the public to fix that? That’s not how we operate in America,” he told Grady Newsource reporter Matt Mataxas during a press conference Monday morning.
In a unanimous opinion, the Court made it clear that the Board of Regents as a whole is shielded from this kind of lawsuit, but individual Board members are not.
“Our decision today does not mean that citizens aggrieved by the unlawful conduct of public officers are without recourse. It means only that they must seek relief against such officers in their individual capacities,” Justice Harold Melton wrote for the Court.
D.A. King, an activist who campaigns for tougher illegal immigration laws, said he is unsurprised by the ruling.
“I am very happy to hear it, as I suspect real, legal immigrants who are here with legal status are as well,” he said in an email.
This decision comes over a year after the lawsuit was filed in Fulton County Superior Court.
The lawsuit itself focuses on the difference between the words “lawful presence” and “lawful status.” The policy says that applicants must be “lawfully present” in the US to go to schools like UGA. The Department of Homeland Security says that students like Mendoza, who apply every two years to have their deportation delayed through a program called “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA), are not unlawfully present.
But, the Board released a memo saying they wouldn’t count DACA as lawful presence for admissions.
The ban applies to UGA, Georgia Tech, Georgia College & State University, Georgia State and the newly-renamed Augusta University.
Laws about admission to public universities differ greatly around the country.
In Alabama and South Carolina, undocumented students are banned from all public universities.
Georgia is the only state in the country that bans undocumented students from some of its universities, but not others.
By Dillon Richards and Matt Mataxas
Article has been updated throughout the day to add quotations. Matt Mataxas contributed reporting from Atlanta.