Several dozen supporters chanted and cheered as the protesters, many of them high school students, walked through the arch onto the university's main quad, receiving fake diplomas in a mock graduation. Addressing their supporters and the media, a number of them publicly declared their illegal status.
"I want the education after high school because I don't want to end up a deadbeat," said 15-year-old Alejandro Galeana. "They're taking away the education that we have a right to."
The sophomore at Cedar Shoals High School in Athens was brought to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 2. He doesn't think it's fair that if he works hard enough to get the grades to qualify to go to one of the state's top schools that he should be denied admission because of his immigration status.
After the mock graduation, the protesters wound their way through the university's campus, ending up at the building that houses the admissions office where several of them spoke and led more chants as one of them used a spoon to pound out the beat on a saucepan.
Tuesday's protest was the latest in a string of demonstrations staged in recent months in Georgia by illegal immigrant young people and their supporters. Others include walkouts at several high schools at the end of last school year and rallies that have ended with protesters getting arrested for blocking traffic.
The policy, adopted last fall by the university system's Board of Regents, bars any state college or university that has rejected academically qualified applicants in the past two years from admitting illegal immigrants.
"Our institutions followed the Board's policy with respect to undocumented students," said Regents spokesman John Millsaps. "Students denied at these five campuses can still apply at other campuses."
The policy was enacted in response to public concerns that Georgia state colleges and universities were being overrun by illegal immigrants, that taxpayers were subsidizing their education and legal residents were being displaced. A study conducted by the university system's Board of Regents last year found that less than 1 percent of the state's public college students were illegal immigrants, and that students who pay out-of-state tuition — which illegal immigrants are required to do — more than pay for their education.