Easley reiterated his support for a policy shift in the North Carolina Community College System that allows qualified illegal immigrants to attend any of the state's 58 community colleges as an out-of-state student.
About 340 illegal immigrants are enrolled statewide, officials said.
Easley said he understands why many North Carolina residents oppose the idea, but he also said that anyone who studies the issue would support it.
"What people are upset about, they care deeply about their citizenship. It really means something to them," he said. "All the governors allow kids – illegal immigrants – to go to community colleges because they don't want to build an underclass in their state. All the states do that."
Changing the policy would hurt innocent victims of the debate, he said.
"We're not talking about 50-year-olds who are jumping the fence to go to school. We're talking about little kids who've grown up here through no fault of their own. They don't know where they were born."
It also would harm North Carolina's economyto bar the students, he said.
"If you slam the door on them, you lose that talent. If you don't take advantage of it, it's just kind of dumb."