Friday, April 19, 2024

DACA limbo: while some states help DACA students, other states bar them from school

Seonki Jo, who was brought to America from South Korea at age 3, has lived in Duluth, Georgia, nearly all his life. When it came time for him to begin his college search, he wanted to stick close to home, but he couldn’t.

Georgia is of the states that not only banned undocumented immigrants like Jo, who in 2015 was granted status under DACA, from receiving discounted in-state tuition rates, but also from attending its top five public universities. With the fate of DACA still tied up in the courts and Congress seemingly no closer to a fix, renewed debate has cropped up in the states about what to do about the thousands of recipients who want to attend college.

Several blue-leaning states such as New Jersey, Oregon and Connecticut, recently passed bills making DREAMers eligible for some form of financial aid, in addition to allowing undocumented students to receive in-state tuition rates. Other states, like Arizona and Georgia, have taken legal action to ensure undocumented students pay more.

While the District of Columbia offers in-state tuition and financial aid to undocumented students, states like Georgia and Arizona have refused to do so. Back in 2016, Georgia said it would admit undocumented students to Augusta and Georgia State universities — allowing Jo to attend the college of his choice, after all. However, this month, the Georgia Supreme Court declined take up an appeal from immigrant students, keeping in place the mandate that they pay out-of-state tuition.

Jo, now 19, said he’s one of the lucky ones. He was accepted to Georgia State, and was granted a little-known merit-based tuition reduction waiver that helps reduce his education costs, but he still still frets about the long term, since the future of the DACA program remains in doubt and his home state takes a strict approach to the issue.

“Here’s the thing: I’m undocumented, I have DACA, but I got my first job when I was 16, I pay my taxes, I pay my sales taxes, I pay my income taxes,” he said. “It isn’t like we’re not contributing to society, it’s not like we’re taking state resources for another country or for ourselves … We do everything citizens do but get none of the benefits.”