Read President Martin Lancaster’s statement on why the community colleges are being forced to admit illegal immigrants:
Since 1958 when the first Industrial Education Center (the predecessor to the community colleges) was established, community colleges have had an open-door policy. This has meant from day one that anyone, without regard to educational background or attainment, race or ethnicity, social or economic standing, would be admitted to benefit from our programs. Our primary mission has been taking persons from wherever they are personally or educationally and helping them go as far as they can go. When questions were raised about a handful of colleges having policies which excluded some students based on immigration status, I asked our General Counsel, David Sullivan to research our policies and the law. Having done so, he reached the conclusion, in which I concurred, that there could be no basis in either policy or law to deny anyone access under our open-door policy. I fully support the memorandum which was issued and do not see it as any change in policy but as clarification of the existing law and policy. Furthermore, it is not only the right law and policy, but it is the right thing to do.
Those who are responding to that legal opinion should know that several undisputable facts have been overlooked:
1. The vast majority of students who might pursue an educational opportunity at a community college came to this country as young children having no choice in the matter. They were brought here by their parents, often as babes in arms. How can these children be considered “lawbreakers” intent on taking advantage of our community college programs illegally?
2. Each of these students had the opportunity to receive a free public education, in many cases from kindergarten through the 12th grade. Some of them have graduated as valedictorians or honor graduates with a clear potential for benefiting from a college education. The perverse thing about the position many would have us take is that parents can strap a one year old child on their backs as they cross the Rio Grande and six months later have a second child and the two children would be treated very differently. The first child would be forever denied an opportunity for an education; the second child, a North Carolina citizen under the Constitution without regard to the status of the parents, would be able to attend a community college or university as an in-state student. Is that fair or right?
3. 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 a community college; these students would more than pay the cost of their community college education. Furthermore, under a federal court decision which allowed the admission of undocumented immigrants to institutions of higher education, the students can receive no federal or state educational benefits. Therefore, they must come up with full tuition, plus fees and books, from their own resources. This $10,000-plus expense is beyond the means of almost any undocumented immigrant who might wish to enroll.
4. In every era of American history the latest wave of immigrants (Irish, Czechs, Pole, Germans, and yes, even those brought here involuntarily, African Americans) has faced the same opposition that Hispanics now face whether they arrived on our shores with or without documents. We are a nation of immigrants and if one reviews the names of those who have called or e-mailed the System Office in opposition to our open door policy, one must conclude that fifty or a hundred years ago, their grandparents or great grandparents faced the same opposition that they are now voicing.
5. Unless the federal government fulfills its obligation to address the whole immigration issue, it is highly unlikely that these students will ever return to their countries of origin, either voluntarily or involuntarily. Therefore, they will remain in North Carolina or some other state and be a significant part of the workforce long into the future. To say that undocumented immigrants “can’t work in North Carolina” ignores the fact that thousands of them are working today in almost every field one can imagine! Do we want these workers to be “knowledge workers” or ignorant workers incapable of giving to their employers their best efforts?
6. Many European countries are now experiencing more significant violent, destructive and terrorist activity by immigrants than we are experiencing in this country. For years these countries have denied immigrants basic rights and services, creating a permanent, disenfranchised, and angry underclass. By refusing to educate and make productive members of our society the children of undocumented aliens, North Carolina and the United States face that same eventuality.
7. For North Carolina to be competitive in a global economy, it must depend on a knowledge-based workforce which makes it imperative that every future worker in North Carolina receive as much education as possible. 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. This will hit the pocketbooks of those who now oppose maximizing the earning capacity of everyone who lives in North Carolina. This ill-advised position would hurt North Carolina and its economic future and will increase the tax burden of those now screaming the loudest!
8. Prior to applying the policy of open admissions for all students consistently across the state, 37 colleges had specifically granted approval for admission of undocumented alien students and an undetermined number of other colleges were admitting these students without having taken formal action. Despite that fact, only 340 undocumented students out of more than 271,000 curriculum students (all of those seeking a degree, diploma or certificate) have chosen to enroll. This is hardly the inundation of our colleges predicted by the talk show hosts, bloggers, e-mailers, and phone callers.
Our System’s open door policy has benefited North Carolina since 1958 by taking ill-prepared students as well as our very best students and given them the highest quality education possible at an affordable cost and at accessible places. North Carolina can ill afford to stop the forward momentum we have created by making every worker in North Carolina a knowledge worker.
If North Carolina wants to continue its dramatic economic progress, it must embrace education as the primary strategy for its future. No potential worker of tomorrow must ever be consigned to the desperation that comes from ignorance and inability to obtain rewarding employment.