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In Georgia, a 'graduation' to protest illegal immigrant ban

August 23, 2011 |  2:45 pm

Georgia high school sophomore Viridiana Corona, 15, was standing in front of the iron arches of her state's flagship university Tuesday afternoon with a mortarboard and a graduation gown.

Graduation A public address system played "Pomp and Circumstance," as she joined a procession through the arches, receiving something that looked a lot like a diploma.

But it was not a University of Georgia diploma — and it is unlikely that Corona, a resident of Douglas County, just west of Atlanta, will ever receive one: The mock graduation ceremony was a protest of the recently implemented state policy banning illegal immigrants from Georgia's top five public colleges and universities.

"This is where I want to go," said Corona, who came from Mexico to the U.S. with her mother when she was 3 months old, and has spent the bulk of her life in the Peach State. "This is where I want to graduate.... I feel like this is my country too."

Georgia's ban was passed by the state Board of Regents last year and took effect this fall in response to concern that illegal immigrants were taking spots at competitive universities that could have gone to legal residents. It is not as strict as laws passed by state legislatures in South Carolina and Alabama, which ban illegal immigrants from all state campuses.

John Millsaps, a spokesman for Georgia's Board of Regents, noted that illegal immigrant students may still attend one of 30 other public schools in the system.

The protest in Athens was the latest act of political theater in Georgia from illegal immigrant youth, many of whom were brought to the United States by their parents when they were very young. Congress has considered  legislation called the DREAM Act, which would give some of those students a path to legal residency if they attend college, but it has not passed.

In April, a number of illegal immigrant youths were arrested at Georgia State University in Atlanta after stopping traffic to publicize their plight.

More than 100 people attended the Athens protest Tuesday, cheering the students as they marched onto campus to receive their pretend degrees. Afterward, the crowd marched through campus, chanting, "Don't be racist UGA, let us study, let us stay!"

A UGA student named Eric stood across the street from the protest with a sign that read, "The United States of America pays for this university." The 22-year-old senior declined to give his full name because he feared being discriminated against for voicing his opinion.

Admission to the university, he told a reporter, should not be allowed for people who "are not following the law of the land."


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-- Richard Fausset in Athens

Credit: B.D. Cummings / Tribune Media Services