The following article was originally published in the News and Observer on September 17, 2009.
The State Board of the N.C. Community Colleges System is looking to change its policy to allow the admission of illegal immigrants — again. If the board approves the new policy (currently, a recommendation from its policy committee), it will be the fifth change in nine years. While the board’s zigzag track record inspires little confidence, the case for admitting illegal immigrants to N.C. community colleges inspires even less.
Members of the system’s policy committee cite fairness and the need to provide the disadvantaged with educational opportunities as major selling points of the proposed change. Considering all the discussion on moral ideals, it’s puzzling to hear officials touting the economic reasons for the policy. They say that admitting illegals is the right thing to do. At the same time, they say that because actual per student educational costs are about $5,000, charging illegal immigrants out-of-state tuition rates (about $7,000) would allow the state to actually "make money."
No doubt the proposed policy and message are driven by strong public opposition to using tax dollars to subsidize the education of illegal immigrants. Proponents, who contend that admitting illegal immigrants would result in no public subsidies, should consider the following:
First, 71 percent of all community college system revenue comes from state appropriations, 13 percent from local governments and 12 percent from tuition revenue. Even if illegal immigrants pay more in tuition, the totals fall far short of offsetting this balance. Second, the assertion that no public subsidies would be used to educate illegal immigrants fails to account for capital or plant and maintenance costs. By law, these costs are not covered by tuition but must be provided for by local sources.
Proponents try to deflect controversy by pointing to the small number (112) of illegal immigrants in the system when their attendance was last allowed. Evidently, the system knows the number of illegal immigrants because some campuses ask about immigration status on registration forms.
But if you’re in a country illegally, how likely are you to report it? Doing so could lead to arrest and deportation. Self-reporting and the lack of credible uniform verification procedures are two strong reasons why many people think the number of illegal immigrants in the community college system is actually much higher.
A March 2009 study of 600 four- and two-year institutions by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers found that more than half (54 percent) of the colleges surveyed knowingly admit illegal immigrants to diploma and degree programs. Nationally, 70 percent of two-year colleges surveyed said they did. Only 20 percent of institutions said they verify the immigration status of respondents.
Immigration advocates say the new policy will help the disadvantaged and improve our economy. How so? According to many studies on the cost of illegal immigration, illegals are a net drain on public services.
Our state’s unemployment rate is about 11 percent. Is it wise to allow the admission of illegal immigrants to community colleges when they cannot legally work here or elsewhere in the United States? Flooding local labor markets with more illegals will only hurt the poor and unemployed. Harvard economist George Borjas found that between 1980 and 2000, immigration reduced the average annual earnings of some native-born males by $1,700. During the 1980s, the poorest of workers saw a 14 percent drop in wages while those in the top percentile saw a 1 percent increase.
While the N.C. community college system’s steps on this issue have been anything but sure, public sentiment is far from uncertain. Civitas DecisionMaker Polls in 2005 and 2008 found that approximately 68 percent of voters said they opposed providing educational benefits to illegal immigrants.
The admission of illegal immigrants will weaken the defense of our own borders, hurt the state’s poor, erode respect for the rule of law and serve as a slap in the face to the many law-abiding immigrants who have waited years to obtain citizenship. The proposed community college policy reflects the confused thinking of those who believe immigration law is a tool for helping the poor, rather than the rightful and lawful expression of a sovereign nation to protect its borders and people.