Activists and students in Georgia rallied here to urge legislators to reject SB 458, which if approved would prohibit access by undocumented immigrants to all of the state's public universities.

"Activists, educators and students from all over Georgia have come to the Capitol to show their opposition to a measure that is fundamentally unfair, that lacks economic vision and is unnecessary, that is attacking students who came here when they were small children with this country being the only one they know," Azadeh Shahshahani, director of the National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, told Efe.

Besides the ACLU, representatives of the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance, Freedom University and Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights organizations, as well as assorted educators and Democratic lawmakers who oppose SB 458 turned out to make their voices heard.

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The measure, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Barry Loudermilk, would require all the state's public universities to verify the immigration status of their applicants using a federal database and to deny admission to those who cannot prove that they are in the country legally.

Last month, a similar proposal was temporarily suspended in the legislature after a public audience at which opponents of the bill jammed the hall.

Democratic state Rep. Pedro Marin called it a "criminal" measure for destroying the dreams of young people who are only guilty of having been brought to this country when they were children by their parents.

The state's five most-selective public institutions - the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia College and State University, the Medical College of Georgia and Georgia State University - already reject undocumented applicants under a rule adopted by the Board of Regents in 2010.

Previously, all of Georgia's public universities admitted undocumented immigrants but required them to pay tuition at out-of-state rates.

Durante Tuesday's event, Shahshahani emphasized the economic impact a measure of this type would have on Georgia's economic future.

"Many of the students who have great potential have left the state for other states where they have been offered scholarships and Georgia is losing the chance to take advantage of all that potential," the activist added.

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According to official figures, of the 318,000 students enrolled in the state university system, just 300 are undocumented.

Mexican-born Yiovani Diaz, who has spent 16 of his 19 years living in the United States, says the measure is unfair to young people like him who regard Georgia as their home.

"If they pass this law, they're doing it just to discriminate because there aren't many students like us in the universities. With this they are affecting us and Georgia's future," he told Efe.

Diaz is currently attending Freedom University, an initiative created by several professors from the University of Georgia to provide an educational alternative to undocumented students.

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