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Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Georgia loses recruit over policy

By David Ching and Radi Nabulsi
DawgNation

ATHENS, Ga. -- Chester Brown was so excited about the opportunity to play football at Georgia that he got his commitment date tattooed on his left forearm. But the Samoan-born offensive lineman is now being forced to look elsewhere.

An anti-illegal immigration measure passed by the state Board of Regents in 2010 requires "the verification of a student's lawful presence in the United States" in order to enroll -- documentation Brown's family is unable to produce.

Brown, who attends the Bradwell Institute in Hinesville, Ga., initially cited "personal reasons" for decommitting, saying that he didn't want "anything bad to happen to me, anything bad to happen to my family and most of all I don't want anything bad to happen to Georgia."

It's just a complex issue and the parents are not always sure how to deal with it ... And the student's not always aware of the fact. I'm sure your parents didn't discuss their citizenship status with you when you were a child."

-- David Graves, University of Georgia
senior associate director of admissions

But Brown had no choice, said a family spokesperson, who added that the decision left him heartbroken after developing relationships with Georgia recruits, coaches and members of the team. He had been talking up the Bulldogs to other would-be Georgia commitments for the Class of 2012 for months.

"It has been rough on Chester," the Brown family spokesperson said Tuesday night. "He went to school today and he just got bashed from all of these teachers calling him dumb and stupid for decommitting. He came home and just cried. And they don't know the situation."

The spokesperson, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of further hurting the family, confirmed that Brown's decommitment was related to the Board of Regents' policy.

Because Brown has not officially applied to Georgia's admissions office, he has not been officially denied for enrollment. But athletic department officials informed Brown that he would not be allowed to enroll without verification of his status as a legal resident.

Instead, Brown will seek a football program in another state where he will be allowed to enroll. Syracuse, Tulane and Middle Tennessee State are among Brown's options and other, bigger schools could enter the picture soon.

"It really hurts because we had everything planned out for him to go to Georgia, everything was on track. And now we have to move on," the spokesperson said. "The university tried everything.

"So now we have to move on to other colleges that will allow him to go to school. There are a lot of colleges coming after him. It is just the state of Georgia."

Although Georgia's athletics rosters are littered with foreign-born players who attend college on a visa, it is highly unusual for one of the university's teams to recruit a U.S. resident whose immigration status is unclear.

In fact, few students within the university's student body have run into issues with the new stipulation.

"Prior to it coming about last year, we were asked to do an audit," said David Graves, UGA's senior associate director of admissions. "I think that out of the entire group of students that were enrolled that we were able to look at at that time, I think there were four that there might have been some issues with. ... We're talking about, out of 35,000 students, there were four that had some issue."

Typically the issue relates to a student's transitional citizenship status -- where he or she was in the process of receiving a green card -- not to his or her being an illegal alien, Graves said.

Brown's family emigrated from Samoa in the mid-1990s and lived in Long Beach, Calif., upon arriving in the United States. They moved to Hinesville in 2004, attempting to escape the crime and gang activity that was prevalent in their community.

Although family members say they came to America legally, they don't have documentation now to prove that Chester meets the Georgia Board of Regents' requirements. They were not even aware that it was a potential issue until recently.

"Some things slipped through the cracks that could have prevented this, had they been handled earlier," Bradwell Institute principal Scott Carrier told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this week.

Graves said parents who have immigrated to the U.S. aren't always aware of the documentation requirements.

"It's just a complex issue and the parents are not always sure how to deal with it -- if they had to leave a country for certain reasons to come to the United States, how to then make that clean transition to the United States," Graves said. "And the student's not always aware of the fact. I'm sure your parents didn't discuss their citizenship status with you when you were a child."

Brown's situation is particularly timely in light of the immigration reform debate that is taking place in legislative bodies across the country.

During Tuesday's State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on Congress to resurrect the DREAM Act that died in the Senate more than a year ago. The bill, which helps young illegal immigrant students and military service members gain a path to citizenship, would apply to those who came to the U.S. before the age of 16 and who have lived in the country for at least five years.

Georgia receivers coach Tony Ball, Georgia's lead recruiter for Brown, called him during Obama's speech to find out whether he was watching.

"Coach Ball called Chester and asked him if he saw President Obama talking about immigrants. Chester said no," the family spokesperson said. "Ball said he was talking about 'Chester Browns' -- about how kids should get green cards so they can succeed at their careers."

No such measure is in place today that would protect a student in Brown's situation. And with national signing day now just a week away, Brown must find another football program that likes what it sees from the raw, 6-foot-5, 340-pound offensive lineman who began playing the sport as a high school freshman -- and can enroll him.

Georgia's coaches -- whom the spokesperson described as "very disappointed" by the turn of events -- offered encouragement as well. They told Brown that several major programs in states with more relaxed immigration policies are interested in him.

"As far as inside the state of Georgia, there is no way. It is just going to run into a dead end. There is nothing else we can do," the spokesperson said of Brown's college options. "What I am hearing, and (what) coach Ball told Chester today, was, 'Get ready, because big-name colleges are coming after you. You will see what I am talking about.' "

David Ching and Radi Nabulsi cover Georgia athletics for DawgNation.com.