Sunnie Yi Ning ’18
Assistant News Editor
Six students from Georgia who lack legal status in the U.S. started traveling to colleges across the Northeast at the end of October, including Smith College, seeking admission and talking with students of these institutions.
The students are members of Freedom University, an Atlanta-based private institution that provides tuition-free education, college application and scholarship assistance and social movement leadership training to undocumented students banned from public higher education in Georgia.
On Oct. 27, the students from Freedom University shared their emotional stories at Smith College. Dozens of Smith students and others filed into an auditorium to hear the students from Freedom University share their experiences about their lives in the U.S., the fears they feel and their ambitions for better lives.
“I was born in Mexico and I don’t know a single thing about that country. I came here when I was 1 ½ years old. All my memories are in Georgia,” said Britney Acevedo, 17, a Roswell High School senior who has been granted a temporary reprieve from deportation, according to the report of myAJC. The temporary reprieve, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an American immigration policy which allows certain undocumented immigrants (those who entered the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007) to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation.
“Students in Georgia who are undocumented don’t know about the policies yet, until it’s their turn… to find out that maybe your dreams won’t be accomplished,” she added.
Another student, Yoshua Gonzaga who also has been granted exemption under DACA, said: “We all just want to achieve that goal of getting a diploma and making our parents proud. Most importantly, we just want to contribute to this country.”
Georgia’s current policy prevents DACA recipients, as well as any other undocumented immigrants from attending many prestigious institutions in the state including the University of Georgia, Georgia College and State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Augusta University. According to The Atlantic, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld a Board of Regents rule in February that states that all students must be “lawfully present” to attend schools in the University System of Georgia and that those seeking in-state tuition must legally be in this state.
Representatives from Freedom University also travelled to other universities in the Northeast. On Oct. 28, two of them met with students from Dartmouth College. According to my AJC when asked what going to college means to them, Yessenia Gonzalez, 19, a Mexican native who graduated from high school in Gainesville, said, “College to me is the key to prove … that I can further my education and that — even though we don’t have the privileges of being citizens — we can still reach our goals.”
Smith College has opened admission to students who lack legal status and students from Freedom University. The office of admission website says that undocumented students are evaluated in the same way as U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents. Smith also provides institutional, need-based financial aid in place of federal financial aid and meet 100 percent of the demonstrated need.