The evening of Jan. 18 began ordinarily enough, my husband and I engaging in our usual, bedroom channel-surfing along with the attendant full-scale, courtroom-worthy debate over which program was to be selected. With 1,150 channels, it's a long and arduous process. Then it happened.
"Two-four-six-eight, we don't want to integrate." Grainy, black-and-white images of throngs of fresh-faced angry teen-agers dressed in crisp white shirts standing at the Arch of the University of Georgia repeatedly screaming in unison, "Two-four-six-eight, we don't want to integrate." We were watching "Eyes on the Prize," a PBS series about 1960s civil-rights struggles.
Five decades ago, young African Americans endured the wrath of the white establishment and subjected themselves to close-range, fire-hosing at water pressures so strong they could rip the bark right off a tree. They endured rock-throwing, face-smashing and arm-twisting arrests. A young woman walked proudly onto the campus of the University of Georgia to the jeers and taunts of an angry mob. Fifty years later, here we go again.
Bills pending in this session of the Georgia General Assembly propose that all institutions of higher education and technical schools in Georgia deny entrance to children of undocumented immigrants. Presently, those without documentation who graduated from a Georgia high school can attend college in Georgia provided they pay out-of-state tuition. But the Georgia Legislature now is considering barring these students altogether. Mind you, these are the same children who have been educated by the state and who have been reciting the Pledge of Allegiance since they were toddlers.
American students are taught the evils of "caste systems" in other countries that allow only a small pool of candidates to receive higher education. Ostensibly, in America the best and the brightest are selected from a well-honed system of competition and opportunity. Merit-based achievement is encouraged, character education is mandated, and students in Georgia are taught that if they study hard, participate and achieve, a bright future is all but guaranteed. Of course, if you are an honor student who happened to have been cradled in your mother's arms when you crossed the southern border, even if you haven't laid eyes on the motherland since, forget it. Your land of opportunity may extend only to the tomato patch in South Georgia, where you will be welcomed with open arms because our agricultural industry depends upon you.
The most common refrain for those who would deny admittance to qualified students regardless of heritage is that those who pay no taxes don't support our institutions of higher learning. That argument must fail since undocumented workers pay sales taxes, property taxes and often pay payroll taxes. And no one is suggesting barring children whose parents don't or can't pay their taxes. If contribution is the standard by which we judge qualification, then clearly all those who fail to buy lottery tickets should be stopped from sending their children to school on the Hope scholarship.
Only a small percentage of undocumented students now attend college in Georgia. Chancellor Erroll Davis said, "Our capacity is not being stressed by thousands of illegal students. Out of 311,000 students in our 35 colleges and universities last fall semester, we found 501 undocumented students, or less than two-tenths of 1 percent. These 501 students all pay out-of-state tuition, which more than fully covers the cost of their education." The students Davis is referring to live in fear. They were powerless over the choices that brought them here and they are powerless over their destiny. Those of us blessed with reason, conscience and heart cannot sit back and watch another generation of children disenfranchised by laws born of prejudice and hate. The wide-eyed stares of those children who have been devalued and dehumanized as though they are somehow responsible for their own predicament will haunt our collective consciousness. We must not repeat the same social injustice that tarnished Georgia two score and 10 years ago.
Summer is an attorney and mother of five. She appears as "loyal opposition" on talk-radio simulcast on WDUN-550 AM and 102.9 FM, live stream on AccessNorthGa.com, and founder of Dream On (www.supportdreamon.com).
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