COVINGTON -- State Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, is one of 15 Republican lawmakers who has signed a letter encouraging the Board of Regents to reevaluate its policy allowing illegal immigrants to attend public colleges and universities.
Currently, illegal immigrants can attend college in Georgia but must pay out-of-state tuition, which is at least three times as expensive at many campuses than in-state fees.
But Douglas said that attending a state college or university is a public benefit and courts have consistently ruled that illegal immigrants are not entitled to public benefits.
"I don't think we have room in our university system for illegal aliens," he said. "It's difficult to get into the research institutes like (the University of) Georgia and Georgia Tech and it's getting more and more difficult and expensive to get into any of the schools in the system. If we reserve a space for those in the country illegally, we're denying space to our own citizens."
The Board of Regents is examining how best to check residency and citizenship of all students who apply to the state's 35 colleges and universities in light of the controversial case of Kennesaw State University senior Jessica Colotl.
Colotl, whose parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico more than 10 years ago, was arrested March 30 after being pulled over by university police for a traffic violation. She was booked into the Cobb County Detention Center for driving without a license and impeding the flow of traffic. Cobb County authorities turned her over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE released Colotl and deferred her case for a year to allow her to complete her classes.
After it was revealed Colotl was being charged in-state tuition by Kennesaw State, the Board of Regents ordered colleges to review tuition charges and verify citizenship status of the nearly 316,000 students in the state system by mid-August.
But Douglas and other state senators say that's not enough. While they call the Regents' mandate to verify eligibility for in-state tuition "a positive first step," they also expressed disappointment "that the Board of Regents seems to be engaged in verbal gymnastics in an effort to escape the obvious and full application of the law. Persons not lawfully present in the United States are not eligible, regardless of tuition rates, to attend taxpayer supported colleges and universities in Georgia.
"Beyond the clear inappropriateness of denying a legal Georgia resident an educational opportunity in favor of an unlawful alien, is the inescapable lack of wisdom in forcing Georgia taxpayers to subsidize the education of a person who upon graduation is not legally eligible to be employed," the letter states.
It goes on to say that in-state tuition rates cover less than 30 percent of the total cost to educate a student and out-of-state tuition rates do not cover the full cost, leaving Georgia taxpayers footing a portion of the bill either way.
"The University System of Georgia is designed to serve Georgians as a first priority and out-of-state citizens as a second priority," Douglas said. "We charge American citizens from Alabama out-of-state tuition, but then we're going to allow somebody who's not only not from this country but here illegally in-state tuition?"
Other state senators who signed the letter are: Don Balfour, R-Snellville; Jim Butterworth, R-Cornelia; Greg Goggans, R-Douglas; Bill Heath, R-Breman; Judson Hill, R-Marietta; Dan Moody, R-Johns Creek; Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga; Jack Murphy, R-Cumming; Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville; Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock; Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg; Preston Smith, R- Rome; Ross Tolleson, R-Perry; and John Wiles, R-Kennesaw.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.