“Cool wisdom.” That’s the phrase the News & Observer used in an editorial (“Defending Open Doors”) to summarize outgoing community college President Martin Lancaster’s statement justifying the admission of illegal immigrants to the state’s community colleges. I strongly disagree with the News & Observer’s assessment, mostly because I find Lancaster’s statement riddled with inaccuracies and doubtful claims. Let me explain.
First, despite Mr. Lancaster’s protestations that the change represents a “clarification of existing law and policy,” the decision to admit illegal immigrants represents a significant shift in policy. The new policy reversed an August 13, 2004, North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) memo 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 November 7 directive, every community college in North Carolina is being forced to enroll illegal immigrants.
In addition, the policy change represents a clear violation of federal law. Under, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), it is a crime to enter the United States without proper documentation. It is also a crime to encourage or induce illegal immigrants to enter the United States. Moreover, Governor Mike Easley has stated that the community college system mischaracterized the advisory opinion – the basis of the November 7 memo – issued by his office. These developments have fueled public calls for Attorney General Roy Cooper to review the new policy.
Second, President Lancaster rests his case on dubious numbers. According to NCCCS, there are 340 illegal immigrants enrolled in community colleges throughout the state. Thus there is apparently no need to worry that illegals are taking seats from U.S. citizens. Still, let’s remember: 340 is a self-reported number. For obvious reasons, illegal immigrants have many reasons not to disclose their immigration status. As such, does anyone seriously believe there are only 340 illegal immigrants enrolled in NCCCS?
I’m not the only one who thinks NCCCS numbers are inaccurate. An analysis of data from the 2006 American Community Survey indicates that even when accounting for age and foreign students at UNC and community college campuses, there are still approximately 10,000 noncitizens enrolled as undergraduates in public higher education institutions in North Carolina. Since a local community college is the probable destination for most of these students, 10,000 fraudulently registered in-state students would likely yield taxpayer subsidies to illegal immigrants in the range of about $36 million dollars per year.
Third, Lancaster claims providing “children” with an education is the right thing to do, both for the immigrants and for our state. Some clarifications are in order. Illegal immigrants are not children. 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. According to NCCCS own statistics, the average age of students in the associate degree programs is 28. These “children” are adults, old enough to know the law and to know there are other legal options for pursuing an education in the United States.
Lancaster tells us that admitting illegals to the community college system is sound economic policy. While illegals may gain job skills, is it wise to educate people who can not legally work in North Carolina or anywhere else in the United States? Also is it wise to use state funds to prepare illegal immigrants – not only to take jobs from uneducated, low-income native workers – but also college educated, high-skilled native workers?
The reality is Lancaster’s argument about illegal immigrants and economic policy is conflicted. On the one hand, he says the high cost of out-of-state tuition ($7,465 per year) is a plus because it will keep down enrollment and reduce costs. On the other hand, Lancaster and Governor Easley are saying we shouldn’t “deny a significant portion of tomorrow’s workforce” educational opportunities. It seems the size and the significance of the population changes to fit the argument.
Lancaster’s directive is based on dubious numbers, indefensible claims and is a direct violation of federal law. Rather than defending an open doors policy, Lancaster’s directive essentially removes the doors from our immigration policy. The current policy sends a message to illegal immigrants that it’s not only O.K. to break U.S. law, but that North Carolina will reward them for doing so. Does anyone think this is cool wisdom?