08/08/2013 08:29 pm ET Updated Oct 08, 2013

Georgia Should Keep, not Drive Away, Gifted Immigrant Students

Georgia just lost another young talent to another state.

Needa Virani arrived in the U.S. at age seven. One year later she moved to Georgia and has lived here since. She attended Brookwood High School, where she distinguished herself as a member of the Math Honors Society and contributor to a regional science fair. Upon graduating in 2010 with a 3.97 GPA, Needa attended Georgia Tech and earned a B.S. Degree in biomedical engineering. Needa graduated with highest honors, maintaining a 3.56 GPA, and worked as a research assistant in an engineering lab. Her future looked exceedingly promising as she made plans to pursue a doctoral degree at Georgia Tech under the supervision of a professor who had offered her a position in her chosen program.

At the time, little did she know she would be prevented from pursuing her dreams. Earlier this year, the admissions office at Georgia Tech informed her that because of Board of Regents Policy 4.1.6, banning undocumented students from attending selective schools, she cannot enroll, despite the fact that Needa was granted deferred action by the federal government last year.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services has confirmed that individuals who are granted deferred action, including grantees of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), are authorized to be present in the United States. Despite this, the Board of Regents has thus far refused to allow DACA grantees admission to selective schools or in-state tuition.

Needa will now have to leave the state she considers home. The Board of Regents policy drove her to search for educational opportunities elsewhere and she just accepted an admission offer at the University of Oklahoma.

Needa is not alone. Since the implementation of the Board of Regents' ban, several highly gifted students have left for other states from Mississippi to Washington.

This policy has gravely harmed Georgia by depriving its outstanding institutions of higher learning of the vibrancy and contributions of some of Georgia's most promising youth.

Georgia in fact stands alone among all states in not allowing young immigrants granted deferred action under DACA admission to selective universities. And an increasing number of states are now allowing DACA grantees in-state tuition.

At a rally in front of the State Capitol last week, Raymond Partolan, President of the Student Government Association of Mercer University who came to the US at age 1, described his state of despair in high school: "I was at the bottom of a very deep and dark well...I the salutatorian of our high school could quite possibly not be able to go to college...I felt I had so much potential but the prospect of college was bleak. That fall I tried to kill myself."

Thankfully Raymond survived and is now one of the leaders in the student movement for equal access to higher education.

Raymond, Needa, and other students like them are children of Georgia. They have so much to contribute to our communities. Rather than erecting barriers, the state should support these exemplary young people and open the way for them to fulfill their potential.

A version of this article first appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.