Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal addressed the UGA College Republicans at its kickoff meeting Tuesday evening. Gov. Deal’s address focused on job creation and the reforms his administration has undertaken, but the event took an abrupt turn when protestors from the Undocumented Student Alliance (“USA”) seized the spotlight.
Deal’s speech was the standard stump fare, tweaked to appeal to a college audience. Deal stated his policies are geared so that students “don’t have to go back to [their] parents’ basements” after graduation. As evidence that his leadership has been effective, Deal cited the state’s job creation, which is heating up. Left unspoken was the state’s stubbornly high unemployment rate, second-highest in the country after Mississippi.
While the governor’s economic policy was typical Sunbelt boilerplate — the eyes, we admit, glazed over during a long anecdote about Dalton, Ga., the Carpet Capitol of the World —, his criminal justice and education reform policies were more intriguing.
Deal touted new alternative sentencing programs the state has introduced to divert non-violent offenders from prison. He also outlined efforts to create a GED program for inmates, who overwhelmingly have no vocational skills to market when they are released from prison. Earning a basic degree, Deal said, will help ex-convicts become employees rather than recidivists.
Deal’s policies for the traditional education system are similarly geared toward preparing students for the workforce. For example, Deal mentioned a proposal to let students fulfill high school foreign language requirements by learning programming languages. Georgia would be the first to adopt such a proposal. He also outlined a policy to distribute HOPE funds to pay for technical certification at trade schools and community colleges. This policy would be a boon to the Georgians who are most vulnerable to the caprice of the marketplace (blue collar workers, that is, not theater majors).
Unfortunately, Gov. Deal’s worthwhile policies will be buried toward the end of most news accounts of his visit, if they are mentioned at all. For a representative example, here’s The Flagpole‘s account.
Four University of Georgia student activists confronted Gov. Nathan Deal during a speech on campus Tuesday night over the state Board of Regents policy prohibiting undocumented immigrants from attending UGA.
During his response, Deal said, “I presume that you are” undocumented.
“I don’t know why you thought I was undocumented. Is it because I look Hispanic?” one of the students, Lizbeth Miranda, told him, prompting boos from the audience at a UGA College Republicans meeting.
“I apologize if I offended you,” Deal said.
Deal said that many Georgia citizens would be concerned if the Board of Regents overturned the ban, and that immigration is an issue that can only be addressed by Congress. He said Congress can’t deal with the issue because it keeps getting “wrapped up in amnesty.” His answer drew a standing ovation.
Emphasis ours. This widely-disseminated characterization of Deal’s comments is misleading. The governor stated twice, not once, that he “presumed” the protestors were undocumented. The first time he was responding to a question from a white male; the second time he was responding to a question from Miranda.
The fact that Deal made this statement on two occasions indicates that he was not, in fact, making a presumption based upon race, but upon the entirely reasonable suspicion that radical activists working on behalf of illegal immigrants may be illegal immigrants themselves.
We were able to capture the first thirty seconds of the exchange on video before our iPhone ran out of storage space. Deal makes his first statement (“…I presume, maybe, you are [DREAM Act children]”) at 0:25.
Of course, all of this post hoc hairsplitting is to the benefit of the Undocumented Student Alliance, which has successfully hijacked the news cycle to its end.
The group is positively giddy about it on Twitter.
— USA at UGA (@USA_UGA) August 27, 2014
We’ll ignore the red herring posed by that particular question.*
Regarding the Undocumented Student Alliance’s actual policy question, we note only that it is the prerogative of the Board of Regents to require that the finite number of spots available at public colleges and universities be awarded to citizens of the United States. If an illegal immigrant were to be admitted to the University of Georgia, it would be at the expense of another student, in all likelihood a citizen. That outcome would not be just if the word “citizen” means anything at all.
So why does the Undocumented Student Alliance want to deny U.S. citizens access to higher education? Why do the Young Democrats, for that matter? Hard to say. We’re just happy to see that Gov. Deal called them on it, even if it meant sidelining more interesting policy initiatives for another day.
—The Editors (John Henry, Blake, Elizabeth, Davis & Connor)
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*For the record, we stand by our characterization of the group with the Power Fist logo…