The roughly three dozen young immigrants have been granted temporary permission to stay in the U.S. under an Obama administration policy introduced last year. They filed a lawsuit in August asking a judge to instruct the university system's Board of Regents to allow them to qualify for in-state tuition.
At a hearing Thursday, DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Mark Anthony Scott heard arguments on the state's request to move the case to Fulton County Superior Court because that's where the Board of Regents is located. Charles Kuck, a lawyer for the young immigrants, argued that the board can be sued in any county where it has a school.
Scott said the arguments were complex and asked both lawyers to submit an additional filing within 60 days.
The Board of Regents has repeatedly said it does not comment on pending litigation.
The Georgia university system requires any student seeking in-state status for tuition purposes to provide verification of "lawful presence" in the U.S. The Regents have said students with temporary permission to stay under the new program — known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA — do not meet that requirement. But the Regents' policy does not define "lawful presence," the lawsuit says.
The program allows young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to obtain work permits for two years if they meet certain requirements. The Department of Homeland Security considers people who have qualified for the program to be lawfully present, according to a fact sheet on the website of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
A group of more than 20 people gathered in front of the courthouse before the hearing for a news conference.
Miguel Angel Martinez Olvera, 19, was brought to the U.S. illegally from Mexico when he was 3 and is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. He wants to go to one of the state's technical schools to be a paramedic or nurse but can't afford to pay out-of-state tuition, he said.
"We are here to make a contribution to this country," he said.
Raymond Partolan, who was born in the Philippines, was brought to the U.S. legally when he was a year old. His father had a skilled worker visa and he and his mother had dependent visas, but the family lost legal status when Partolan was in fifth grade because his father couldn't pass an English competency test, he said.
The 20-year-old is a junior majoring in political science and Spanish at Mercer University, a private school that gave him a full scholarship. But he said it's important to him to fight for in-state tuition for other young people in the immigrant community who haven't been as fortunate as he has. That's ultimately what he wants to do professionally, he said. He plans to go to law school to become an immigration lawyer.
"There's definitely an injustice going on here," he said. "There's definitely something that needs to be corrected."
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.