By Dr. Jameson Taylor, with Dr. Robert Luebke
RALEIGH, N.C. – Earlier this week North Carolina Community College System (NCCS) President Martin Lancaster issued a belated defense of a November 7, 2007, directive that forces community colleges to admit illegal immigrants. Lancaster’s “passionate defense” is both misleading and factually inaccurate. Contrary to his claims, the new policy violates federal and state law and is a misinterpretation of a 1997 advisory opinion issued by the North Carolina Attorney General’s office. The policy also mistakenly presumes that illegal immigrant workers are vital to North Carolina’s economy, even as it admits that illegal aliens constitute a burden on the state because they pay less in taxes and use more social services. Finally, the figures provided by Lancaster regarding the cost to educate out-of-state students are erroneous and do not include debt service on $850 million in statewide general obligation bonds, as well as debt service on bonds issued by local communities.
Claims Lancaster: This is not “any change in policy but [a] clarification of the existing law and policy.”
The Facts: This policy reverses a previous memo (CC04-171) issued August 13, 2004, directing that “local community colleges have the discretion to implement admissions policies that permit the enrollment of undocumented immigrant applicants.” Under the previous policy, only 16 of 58 community colleges formally admitted illegal immigrants as out-of-state students. Under the new directive, every community college in North Carolina is being forced to enroll illegal immigrants.
Claims Lancaster: This memorandum is a “clarification of existing law and policy. Furthermore, it is not only the right law and policy, but it is the right thing to do.”
The Facts: This policy violates both federal and state law. Under The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) it is a crime to enter the United States without proper documentation (8 USC 1181). It is also a crime to encourage or induce illegal immigrants to enter the United States (8 USC 1324). Moreover, according to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, states are prohibited from appropriating state or local funds to provide postsecondary education to illegal immigrants (8 USC 1621). This provision can only be overridden by specific legislative action by the General Assembly. Finally, the North Carolina Constitution, Article I, Section 5, stipulates that “every citizen of this State owes paramount allegiance to the Constitution and government of the United States, and no law or ordinance of the State in contravention or subversion thereof can have any binding force.”
In addition, Governor Mike Easley (D) has stated that the Community College System mischaracterized the 1997 advisory opinion issued when he was Attorney General. “It’s totally different than the facts of the letter they relied upon,” confirmed Easley.
Claims Lancaster: “The vast majority” of these students came to the United States as “young children having no choice in the matter.” Moreover, Lancaster suggests that every student who will enter the Community College System under this new policy “had the opportunity to receive a free public education,” with some of them graduating as valedictorians or honor students.
The Facts: According to the Center for Immigration Studies, the average age of immigrants (both legal and illegal) in the United States is “40.5 years compared to 35.9 years for the average native.” The average age of new arrivals (since 2000) is 29.4 years. Moreover, the community college memorandum makes no distinction whatsoever between illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and were educated in the North Carolina public school system and those who arrived as adults. Rather, the policy applies to any adult “at least 18 years of age.”
Lancaster also suggests that he knows, not only how many illegal aliens are currently enrolled in the North Carolina public school system, but the academic performance of each of these students. We urge President Lancaster to release these statistics as they could be used by state leaders to help determine what the true costs of illegal immigration are to our public school system.
While some 340 self-identified undocumented aliens are currently enrolled in the Community College system, the actual numbers are probably much greater. Our analysis of data from the 2006 American Community Survey suggests that approximately 10,000 non-citizen students (excluding foreign nationals within the UNC system) are currently enrolled in North Carolina’s public higher educational system. It is likely that many of these students are illegal immigrants fraudulently enrolled in community colleges as in-state residents. The cost to educate these students at the in-state tuition annual rate is more than $20 million a year.
Claims Lancaster: These children are “forever being denied an opportunity for an education.”
The Facts: Thousands of legal immigrants are currently enrolled in North Carolina’s higher education system. In order to study in North Carolina, all these students needed to do was obtain a student visa so they could enter the United States legally. Even if a fraction of illegal immigrants in North Carolina came here as children, once they turn 18 they are adults. As adults, they can seek an education anywhere in the world – including at any one of North Carolina’s community colleges. They need only apply for a student visa. Alternatively, they can return to their native country to study.
Claims Lancaster: “To attend a community college as an undocumented immigrant, these students will have to pay $7,465 per year as full-time curriculum students, which is $2,090 more than the legislature gives the community college to educate a full-time student. Therefore, there is no state subsidy for these students to attend community college.”
The Facts: Lancaster chooses his words very carefully when he says out-of-state tuition is “$2,090 more than the legislature gives the community college.” His numbers only include General Fund spending for community colleges. He thus omits local appropriations altogether, which account for 13 percent of funding for the community college system. Moreover, Lancaster’s numbers only include full-time students, who make up only one-third of total enrollment. Finally, Lancaster omits statewide and local general obligation bonds devoted to community college needs. Currently, there are $850 million of outstanding statewide general obligation bonds ($250 million passed in 1993 and $600 million in 2000) dedicated to the community colleges. This number does not include millions of dollars of local obligation bonds, such as the $92 million bond referendum for Wake County Technical Community College passed by Wake County voters in October 2007.
Claims Lancaster: On the one hand, Lancaster asserts that this policy will have a minimal impact on enrollment because the “expense is beyond the means of almost any undocumented immigrant who might wish to enroll.” On the other, Lancaster declares that illegal immigrants “will remain a significant part of the workforce long into the future” and that we cannot “deny a significant portion of tomorrow’s workforce any higher education opportunities.”
The Facts: Which is it? Will this policy have a negligible impact on enrollment or is it necessary to maintain North Carolina’s “dramatic economic progress”? What Lancaster is really saying is that the state should offer in-state tuition to illegal immigrants and then pursue policies that encourage the federal government to declare an amnesty so these newly trained students can work legally. Indeed, the state is already moving toward granting in-state tuition to illegals:
• In 2005, the General Assembly considered legislation (HB 1183) that would have granted in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.
• According to former Governor James Holshouser (R), the UNC Tomorrow commission is encouraging UNC’s board of directors “to look at that, at a new policy” that would grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. Likewise, UNC system president Erskine Bowles has stated that UNC will be studying the costs and benefits of this issue. "We can’t stick our heads in the sand," Bowles told the Raleigh News & Observer. "These people are here, and we have to deal with it. The last thing in the world we want to do is create another permanent underclass."
• Eleven other states already grant in-state tuition to illegals. In 2001, Texas granted in-state tuition to illegal immigrants and four years later reported a 900 percent increase in illegal immigrant enrollment.
In effect, President Lancaster presumes no distinction whatsoever between a legal labor force and an illegal labor force. This is to say that he is defending this policy with the presumption that a blanket amnesty will eventually permit these immigrants to legally work in North Carolina.
Claims Lancaster: Previous waves of immigrants “faced the same opposition.”
The Facts: While previous waves of immigrants – primarily those from certain European countries and Asia (immigration from countries within the Western Hemisphere was not generally subject to quotas) – did face opposition and discrimination in the past, these immigrants were legal immigrants. This issue is not about immigration, but about preserving the culture of law that is vital to the preservation of democracy. Again, Lancaster glosses over any distinction between legal immigration and illegal immigration.
Claims Lancaster: Illegal immigrants are a necessary part of North Carolina’s workforce and should be trained accordingly.
The Facts: As of October 2007, 218,917 (seasonally adjusted) workers were unemployed in North Carolina. These numbers do not include thousands of working-age residents who are not included as part of the civilian labor force because they are not looking for a full-time job. Why doesn’t the Community College System focus its resources on reaching out to these people? Instead, we are pursuing a policy that will increase unemployment and wages for native workers and for legal immigrants. In short, Lancaster wants to use the Community College System to turn unskilled illegal workers into skilled illegal workers. Once these folks enter the labor force, skilled – college educated – natives will begin to lose jobs. And, perhaps, at that point we will find the political will to fix America’s broken immigration system.
Claims Lancaster: If we do not educate illegal immigrants, we will create a “permanent, disenfranchised, and angry underclass” such as is found in Europe.
The Facts: This argument is the most curious of all of Lancaster’s assertions. He seems to be implying that his Community College System holds the key to acculturating North Carolina’s 500,000-plus population of illegal immigrants. This strategy has already been tried in many European counties that extend generous social and welfare benefits to immigrants. Most, if not all, immigrants who pass the baccalauréat exam in France, for instance, have access to a free university education. The result? High unemployment – both for natives and immigrants. France’s polices have also fueled the creation of an isolated underclass characterized by an entitlement mentality. Lancaster likewise overlooks the fact that many of the tensions prevalent in European society are being caused by an influx of Muslim – in some cases, radical Islamic fundamentalist – migrants into Europe.
Europe aside, we have already gone a long way toward creating a permanent underclass in the United States — an underclass created by generational dependency upon the welfare state. Underclasses – slavery in antebellum America, the Kurds in Iraq – exist in countries where the rule of law doesn’t matter, where law can be bought and sold, and where public leaders think they are above the law. The only way to prevent the creation of an underclass is to apply the law equally to everyone. And that means enforcing the law equally.
Claims Lancaster: Ironically, Lancaster acknowledges that low-skilled, illegal immigrants are a burden to North Carolina’s economy and have brought negative consequences, such as “reduced tax collections and potential payments for social services and incarceration costs.”
The Facts: We agree. According to a 2007 report by the Heritage Foundation, low-skill immigrant households “received $30,160 per household in immediate benefits and services” – $10,000 more than the average U.S. household. By contrast, the average low-skill immigrant household paid only $10,573 in taxes. The result: a $19,599 deficit. Over the next 10 years, “the net cost (benefits minus taxes) to the taxpayer of low-skill immigrant households will approach $1 trillion.”
Claims Lancaster: The federal government has an “obligation to address the whole immigration issue.” To this we might also add Governor Easley’s comment, “I think most people seem to be upset that the borders have not been controlled, and that upsets me and every governor in the country who then gets the illegal immigrants in their state and then has to deal with the reality of it.”
The Facts: We also agree. Lancaster, much like Governor Easley, seems to be of the opinion that because the federal immigration system is broken the state of North Carolina no longer needs to obey federal immigration law. Even apart from the question of securing the border, the primary reason immigrants come to the United States is because they have economic incentives to do so. These incentives include higher paying jobs, a free public education and free healthcare via Emergency Medicaid. Once we remove these incentives, fewer illegal immigrants will come to the United States. As other states – such as Arizona, Georgia and Colorado – are moving toward restricting welfare and other benefits to illegal immigrants, North Carolina is doing the opposite. If Governor Easley and President Lancaster really support comprehensive immigration reform, they should begin by enforcing immigration laws here in North Carolina. If North Carolina can’t secure the border, it can certainly remove some of the inducements that are encouraging illegal immigrants to come to the United States.