Freedom University Provides an Underground Education for Undocumented Immigrants

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Every new school year, numerous undocumented immigrants are turned away from higher education. While the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy has helped many DREAMers obtain associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, several more capable and driven young people are still left out of college classrooms. Enter Freedom University, an underground Georgia institution providing undocumented young people with college courses.

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Named after freedom schools, free alternative schools for African Americans that popped up in the South during the Civil Rights Movement, like its predecessor, Freedom University was also born out of legal discrimination. In 2011, the state passed Georgia Board of Regents Policies 4.1.6 and 4.3.4, which ban people living in the United States illegally from attending Georgia’s top five public universities and from receiving in-state tuition.

Frustrated, professors at some of the institutions joined forces with hopeful undocumented youth to create Freedom University that year.

“I started teaching as a volunteer professor back in 2013 and my experience specifically with student labor activism and civil disobedience came in handy when students wanted to be more engaged in terms of coming out of the shadows, not just going to a secret school,” Emiko Soltis, the executive director of Freedom University, told students at the College of William and Mary.

Currently, she has 40 students in the school, who meet at a rented space in an Atlanta-area college. The tuition-free university offers lectures on pre-colonial Americas, racial identity in the U.S., semiotics and literature. There's also a college prep program, a debate team, activism training and even meditation and yoga classes.

“Freedom U is an institution that helps undocumented students get into college,” Mileidi, a student at Freedom University, said. “It teaches about activism and how we can become more involved in our communities, how to successfully plan and execute an event. It brings a sense of community to undocumented students; it helps us feel more normal, more like students.”

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The university has been met with pushback, particularly from the Ku Klux Klan, who often troll their phone line and try to find out where the school is located. To keep Freedom University going, head over to its site and make a donation.