Illegal Immigrants Create Community College Controversy
North Carolinians are up in arms over a statewide community college policy that allows illegal immigrants to attend community colleges at out-of-state tuition rates:
A recent legal memo from the North Carolina Community College System office broadening the definition of “open door” admissions sparked a firestorm across the state. Citing a 1997 state attorney general opinion that “denies colleges the authority to ‘impose nonacademic requirements on admissions,'” David J. Sullivan, assistant to the president for legal affairs for the system, wrote to the leaders of the 58 community colleges that, “notwithstanding any policy of the local board, colleges should immediately begin admitting undocumented individuals” as out-of-state residents.
Many states are debating rules about in-state tuition rates for such students, but the North Carolina fight is over the right to enroll at all — even at full price. The system memo followed the revelation that 21 of the colleges were barring illegal immigrants, at least as of the last statewide count in 2005. The varying policies are the result of a 2004 state system memo that left the question up to local colleges.
The new directive has become political dynamite in the state, with the five leading Democratic and Republican candidates for governor condemning it within days of when it became public last week, and residents flooding the phone lines of their political and college leaders. “The directive issued by the North Carolina Community College System to mandate all community colleges across our state admit illegal immigrants as students simply ignores our immigration laws. If we ignore these laws, what other laws should we consider as unnecessary to obey?” State Senator Fred Smith, a Republican candidate for governor, said in his statement.
Meanwhile, the current governor, Michael F. Easley, a Democrat, defended the practice of admitting undocumented students who qualify and pay out-of-state tuition rates. And Martin Lancaster, the system president, released a statement Monday emphasizing the community colleges’ inclusive missions and stressing that the affected students, mostly brought to the United States by their parents as children, did not make the decision to come to the country illegally and most likely won’t be returning to their nations of origin. “To deny a significant portion of tomorrow’s workforce any higher education opportunities will not only hurt these young people who came to North Carolina through no fault of their own, but it will also significantly diminish their incomes forever. The consequences to North Carolina are reduced tax collections and potential payments for social services and incarceration long into the future.”
I can see the argument for excluding illegal immigrants from receiving driver’s licenses, as they are de facto national identity documents and a gateway document (along with an easy-to-forge social security card) to employment eligibility, and I generally agree that in-state rates should be reserved for legal residents of the state in question, or legal residents of neighboring states, if a tuition exchange program is in place, but I’m not sure what public benefit there is to barring illegals from attending community colleges at out-of-state tuition rates–particularly when the out-of-state tuition rate is over $2,000 more per year than the actual cost of educating students, in effect creating a subsidy for legal state residents who attend those same colleges. And certainly college admissions officers have better things to be doing than checking the identity papers of every applicant and conducting legal residency checks on every person who wants to take a course at their college.