Emory University is getting some backup from another metro Atlanta private school after a Republican lawmaker threatened to cut off state funding to any higher education institution that declares it will defy President-elect Donald Trump if he tries to deport immigrants who are illegally in the U.S.
Agnes Scott College President Elizabeth Kiss said in a statement that the Decatur school would continue to support undocumented students, known as “Dreamers,” who were granted a temporary reprieve from the threat of deportation by an executive order from President Barack Obama.
"Agnes Scott's DACA students do not receive a penny of state or federal aid," Kiss wrote, referring to the Obama program, adding: "They are bright, hard-working young women who have played by the rules, graduated from high school and passed a criminal background check. They want to become citizens of their country and pursue the American Dream."
The school is at least the second private college in Georgia to commit to supporting students who are in the country illegally regardless of Trump's immigration policy. Emory President Claire Sterk last week said the school would follow state and federal laws but also continue to support its "Dreamers." She also said administrators were reviewing whether to declare Emory a "sanctuary campus and ways to protect all members of the Emory community."
That prompted a backlash from state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, who told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday he plans to introduce legislation to block colleges from receiving state funds if they aren’t complying with state and federal law. Ehrhart, chair of the House's higher education financing panel, said "if you're picking and choosing which laws you're going to follow, state dollars aren't going to follow."
Such a decision could cost private schools tens of millions of dollars in grants, tuition assistance programs and other funding.
Students and faculty from more than 100 universities have called on their administrators to declare themselves sanctuaries or otherwise protect undocumented students after Trump’s election. The president-elect has vowed to deport the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally, though it's unclear how he'll handle students and other young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children.
They are borrowing the term from the handful of major cities – and dozens of smaller ones – that have declared themselves “sanctuary cities.” Though the meaning varies widely, it typically signals that the city won’t work with federal immigration authorities to hand over people in the country illegally.
Already, Emory's stance has infuriated some alumni. Larry Hailey, who graduated from Emory with two degrees in the 1950s, called Sterk's comments "appalling" in a letter sent Wednesday to the university's board.
"If Emory follows through with the planned intent not to follow the applicable laws, I will not only be ashamed of my former university, but also could not consider making any more contributions to Emory," wrote Hailey, a commercial real estate executive. "As will be the case with many of my friends and acquaintances who in the past have thought well of Emory."
Kiss, the Agnes Scott president, said she's hopeful "cooler heads will prevail" and that students in the country illegally won't be targeted for deportation. The DACA students at the Decatur school are high achievers, she said, who aren't taking any spots away from American-born students.
"They are able to go to college because they receive private scholarship support which we raise from donors and foundations, and scrape together the rest of their college costs through the hard work of their families in housekeeping, construction, agriculture, hospitality, manufacturing and the U.S. military," she said.
Related AJC coverage: