ATHENS, Ga. — For years, attaining higher education has been at the top of the list of obstacles undocumented students face, but as the midterm elections approach, dreamers in Athens-Clarke County are hopeful for the future.
Undocumented students have been barred from attending Georgia’s top universities and receiving in-state tuition since the Georgia Board of Regents created a policy against it in 2011. Both candidates have taken strong stances on opposite sides of the policy so the outcome of the election on Nov. 6 could be the determining factor as to whether these students will be able to gain access to these universities as well as the HOPE scholarship.
“We are trying our best to keep up the hopes, keep up the dreams and we will keep up the fight and it will happen,” said Shari Roshan, University of Georgia freshman and member of the local Athens group U-Lead. “But we are generally a lot more hopeful than we used to be. I feel like we have moved on from that depression era of the 2016 elections.”
Roshan is Iranian and has been a legal permanent resident in the U.S. since 2015 when her family moved to Athens, Georgia. Roshan said that though the general attitude is hopeful, there is still uncertainty for the future of her friends who hold undocumented statuses.
Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams’ has created a higher education plan promising to “Defend the rights of Dreamers as they pursue their education goals” by supporting policies and programs for higher education opportunities for Georgians experiencing barriers. Georgia Secretary Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee is focusing on the identification and deportation of criminalized immigrants within the system.
Both candidates have visited the Classic City to campaign drawing crowds of audience members and, in the case of Brian Kemp, protestors condemning the policies Georgia has put on higher education. They will have the opportunity to change this policy through the appointment of members of the Georgia Board of Regents.
The Athens-Clarke County School Board has worked to accommodate these students in the community as well; however, according to Clarke County School Board Member John Knox, the power is in the hands of the Georgia Board of Regents. Meanwhile, the Athens community has shown support for these students through tutoring programs like U-Lead that provide tutoring services for undocumented students trying to access higher education.
“This has become a really important space… especially because this is a community that is not listened to in any meaningful way officially because they cannot vote and they’re discouraged from action because their lives in this country depend on their silence,” said Tamar June, a U-Lead Volunteer Coordinator.
In addition to U-Lead, student organizations like Undocumented Student Alliance (USA) have been active in the past in organizing protests and providing support of undocumented students in the community. These organizations participate in a variety of community events like LatinX Fest and have organized many fundraisers in the community. One of the highest priorities is ensuring that those students who are eligible to vote are registered, featured in the video below.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, Latinos make up a small portion of the electorate in the southern states. In Georgia, there are only 349,000 Latinos eligible to vote as opposed to 7,014,000 non-Latino voters. Though they make up a small portion of the Georgia electorate, their support has been important for Democrats in previous elections. In 2018 it was not enough to sway the election.