Georgia college and technical students who participate in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program could get a break on their tuition thanks to a bill under consideration in the state House, but similar measures have failed in recent years.

This story also appeared in Georgia Recorder

DACA is an Obama-era program that shields people from deportation who were brought to the country as undocumented minors. As of Sept. 30, there were about 19,300 Georgia residents participating in DACA, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Those students who are in college now pay out-of-state tuition, which can be more than three times higher than in-state tuition. Bill author Rep. Kasey Carpenter says that’s not fair.

“We have talked about the declining enrollment in our colleges across the state for some time,” the Dalton Republican said at a House Higher Education Committee hearing Wednesday. “We’ve talked about border waivers that we offer to kids from Florida, from Tennessee, from Alabama, from South Carolina. And this piece would allow kids that have gone through our K-12 systems and have graduated who want to continue on in their educational process to attend them at a rate that’s affordable.”

Carpenter pitched his bill as an opportunity to fill empty college seats and boost Georgia’s workforce. Under it, DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers, would pay an opportunity tuition rate determined by the Board of Regents or State Board of the Technical College System, which could differ between institutions and be set to between 100% and 110% of the standard in-state tuition for the current year.

The bill exempts universities that have not admitted all qualified applicants in the two most recent academic years, which could leave out the state’s most competitive colleges. Schools would be required to give priority to students on in-state tuition and could defer applications of qualified opportunity tuition students until all in-state applications are resolved.

“I think the intention of the paragraph is to say, look, we’re going to check in state first, out of state second, opportunity students third,” Carpenter said.  “It’s just to make it very clear that American citizens are first and then and then the opportunity citizens are second.”

To qualify, Dreamers will need to be under 30 at the time of their application, have graduated from a Georgia high school or obtained an equivalency diploma and lived in Georgia since January 1, 2013 up to the present time, or be the dependent child of a parent who has.

They will also need to demonstrate that they have not been convicted of a felony, three misdemeanors or one high and aggravated misdemeanor — a misdemeanor can be elevated to high and aggravated under certain circumstances, for example, misdemeanor simple battery would be upgraded if committed against a pregnant woman or person over 65.

Rafael Aragon, an undocumented Georgian, said he moved to Connecticut for college because he could not afford to pay out-of-state tuition in Georgia. He eventually moved back, but many of his undocumented friends did not.

“So many of them graduated, engineering or computer science degrees, things that I think would be valuable to Georgia, and I think it’s an incredible and unfortunate loss of the investment that this state has made in us, in our K-12 education, to just allow these bright, intelligent people who love this state and want to continue living here to go somewhere else.”

Opposition to the bill came in a couple flavors.

David Garcia, director of policy and advocacy at the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said the bill is a step in the right direction, but GALEO is concerned the residency requirements could leave people out and the two tuition classifications would create a two-tiered system.

D.A. King, an anti-illegal immigration activist, said the bill favors undocumented Georgians over American citizens living in other states.

“There was a time on this campus where the majority of the legislators were what we call pro-enforcement,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s true anymore, but this bill will certainly be an indicator.”

“There’s a lot of people out there watching this bill, and a lot of us consider a decision to do this to be very un-American,” he added.

The bill is similar to one Carpenter filed in 2021 which passed out of committee but did not get a House vote. That bill was seen as a compromise — a previous version of the bill would have charged Dreamers at the same rate as other in-state students. The year before, that version stalled in committee over concerns about a Supreme Court case.

March 6 is the deadline for a bill to easily pass from one chamber to the next.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal.Williams' reporting took him from City Hall to homeless camps, from the offices of business...