Dear Community College Board Member:
I am writing to encourage you to maintain the community college system’s current ban on illegal alien admissions to degree-granting/curriculum programs. The current prohibition on illegal alien admissions enjoys the support of a clear majority of North Carolina voters and is consistent with the plain meaning of federal law. Along with benefiting North Carolina’s working families, preserving the ban will also confirm our state’s long-term commitment to the value of a community college education.
North Carolina Voters Oppose the Admission of Illegal Aliens
The Civitas Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank dedicated to improving the welfare of all North Carolinians, has been polling on this issue for three years. Because we only poll active voters, we believe our results represent the most accurate measure of voter sentiment in North Carolina. Our polling indicates that public opposition to illegal alien admissions is remarkably constant:
- In August 2005, 69 percent of N.C. voters opposed providing education benefits to illegal immigrants.
- In February 2008, 68 percent of N.C. voters opposed allowing illegal immigrants to enroll in community colleges.
- Likewise, 81 percent of N.C. voters oppose giving non-emergency state benefits to illegal immigrants over age 18 (July 2006) while 79 percent think illegal immigration is a burden on our state (May 2008).
The Interpretation of Federal Law is Not Settled in this Area
According to a recent letter from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), “The individual states must decide for themselves whether or not to admit illegal aliens into their public post-secondary institutions.” The Department of Homeland Security, however, is only responsible for administering immigration law, not interpreting it. Ultimately, the final decision as to what constitutes a public benefit must be left to the court system. In the meantime, as originally advised by the state attorney general’s office, the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) should pursue a policy that will be more “likely to withstand judicial scrutiny.”
At the very least, federal law regarding the admission of illegal aliens is unclear. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996 mandates that illegal aliens are not eligible “for any State or local public benefit.” Such benefits are identified as those “for which payments or assistance are provided to an individual, household, or family eligibility unit by an agency of a State or local government or by appropriated funds of a State or local government.”
As far as our community colleges go, this means either one of two things: 1) all postsecondary educational benefits, including admission, are prohibited; or 2) only those benefits that entail “payments or assistance” are prohibited. Under the first reading, admitting illegal aliens to community colleges is against the law because such admissions depend upon “appropriated funds.” Under the second interpretation, only scholarships and other forms of direct financial aid are banned.
In 2001, the community college system followed the broader reading of the law when it confirmed that illegal aliens could not enroll in degree-granting programs. This policy was subsequently reversed in 2004, and again in November 2007. In May 2008, under the guidance of the attorney general’s office, the NCCCS reverted back to its former policy of prohibiting illegal alien admissions.
Thus far only one case (Equal Access v. Merten, E.D. Va. 2004) has considered whether a state may bar illegal aliens from its colleges and universities. On the one hand, this ruling confirms that college admission is not a public benefit; on the other, the decision concluded that Congress intended to convey the message that “public post-secondary institutions need not admit illegal aliens at all.” And this reading of Equal Access v. Merten is what seems to have prevailed in the attorney general’s May 6, 2008, advisory letter counseling against admitting illegal aliens.
In any case, it will only be a matter of time before additional legal challenges clarify things. As you know, some community college programs – e.g., nursing – have long waiting lists. In such instances it is very likely that illegal aliens are taking spots that would otherwise go to American citizens. And, in such cases, American citizens can claim that their 14th Amendment rights are being violated by an “open-door admission policy” that extends select admission benefits to illegal aliens while denying the same to American citizens (cf. 8 U.S.C. 1623).
Finally, I would add that according to the Code of Ethics for North Carolina Educators, educators “shall not commit … any felony under the laws of the United States or of any state” (16 NCAC 6C .0602). Yet, it is a felony to knowingly encourage or induce illegal aliens to come to or reside in the United States (8 U.S.C. 1324) or to harbor or employ an illegal alien (8 U.S.C. 1324). Similarly, the codes of conduct of many of North Carolina’s community colleges specifically forbid students from violating “local, state or federal criminal law on college property” or acting as an “accessory to a violation or help[ing] someone else commit an offense” (cf. GTCC Code of Conduct). By admitting illegal aliens, the community college system is knowingly enrolling students who are in violation of federal immigration law.
Five Points to Consider
Even if it should be determined that the NCCCS may legally enroll illegal aliens, it would still be an improper use of public resources. A taxpayer-subsidized college education is neither a basic human right nor is it a benefit that should be extended to individuals who are not legal residents of the United States. Consider the following five points:
- Illegal aliens are prohibited by law from working in North Carolina (cf. 8 U.S.C. 1324).
One of the primary purposes of the community college system is to provide for the “education, training and retraining of the workforce.” By providing illegal workers with a college education the state is tacitly promising that these students will somehow be able to work in North Carolina. In short, the state is promising an eventual amnesty.
- Illegal alien workers will displace college-educated working Americans.
Illegal immigration has already created a black market labor pool in such industries as construction and agriculture. Providing a publicly funded college education to illegal aliens will extend this phenomenon to other economic sectors, resulting in lower wages and fewer jobs for American college graduates. In the long-term, enrolling illegal aliens will debase the value of a community college degree, thus undermining the primary mission of the community college system itself.
- The number of illegal students is much greater than reported.
The NCCCS reports that only 139 of nearly 500,000 community college and university students are illegal aliens. These numbers falsely assume that every illegal alien within the system has identified himself as such. Civitas’ own analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data has found that there are several thousand illegal aliens within the community college and UNC systems. Along these lines, it is worth pointing out that illegal aliens paying out-of-state tuition are still benefitting from public appropriations. According to the NCCCS Fact Book (I.9), for example, tuition payments only account for 12.5 percent of the total community college budget.
- Breaking the law is the wrong message to send our students.
By enrolling illegal aliens into our community colleges we are sending the message that North Carolina will not only ignore federal immigration law, but provide encouragement and assistance to individuals who break the law. Surely, this is not the lesson we want to impart to our students. Moreover, prohibiting illegal aliens from attending community college does not prevent foreign students from attending either a private college or university in the United States or a publicly funded university in their country of origin. Qualified Mexican nationals, for instance, are eligible for free tuition at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), one of the top universities in the world.
- The need for verification and transparency.
Even if the State Board of Community Colleges should decide to admit illegal aliens, DHS has cautioned that the state must use “federal immigration status standards to identify illegal alien applicants” (cf. also Equal Access v. Merten). Presumably this means that the state will be required to verify the immigration status of every college applicant using the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program (cf. 8 U.S.C. 1625). Such verification measures would insure that illegal aliens are actually enrolling at the out-of-state tuition rate as required by federal law (8 U.S.C. 1623).
Finally, given the gravity of this decision and its consequences for North Carolina’s future, I urge the board to petition the General Assembly to take up this matter when it reconvenes in 2009. Congress has indicated its preference that such issues be settled “through the enactment of a State law” (8 U.S.C. 1621). As has been done in other states, such as our neighbor South Carolina, our elected representatives should decide this question in a manner consistent with the will of the people.
I appreciate your careful attention to this matter and would be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Dr. Jameson Taylor
Director of Policy & Research