Local Politics

Community college board to discuss ban on illegal immigrants

Posted August 13, 2008 5:15 p.m. EDT
Updated August 14, 2008 9:12 a.m. EDT

— The State Board of Community Colleges will meet Thursday on whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to attend North Carolina community colleges.

The board will hear from people on both sides of the complex issue Thursday and Friday. Members expect to put the issue to a vote on Friday.

U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, a Republican from Charlotte, is proposing a bill to withdraw federal funding if schools knowingly admit illegal immigrants.

She hopes her bill would clarify current law, she said Wednesday. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said admitting illegal immigrants is not banned under any federal law, leaving any decisions and enforcement up to the states.

In North Carolina, that position has changed four times in the past eight years. In May, the state system barred illegal immigrants from admission to degree programs. Students already enrolled pay tuition at the out-of-state rate.

That's not enough for Myrick. "We just can't wink at it and pretend it doesn't exist," she said. "Illegal is illegal."

In a letter to the community college system, State Sen. Philip Berger (R-Rockingham), agreed, saying, "All indications are that the vast majority of our citizens are opposed to admission of illegal immigrants to the state’s community colleges. ... I encourage the board to support our legal citizens and not reward or encourage breaking our laws."

Chancy Kapp, the community college system's director of marketing and external affairs, said, "I would characterize this as an issue which engenders a lot of passion."

In North Carolina, 800,000 students attend 58 community colleges. Of those, a fraction – 112 at last count – are illegal immigrants.

Tony Asion, executive director of the Latino advocacy group El Pueblo Inc., sees the value of that opportunity. His group thinks giving everyone an education makes good sense.

He said he thinks the plan to ban illegal immigrants from community colleges is merely a political ploy.
"I think it's sad that a person who became a public servant to allegedly help people would go out there and say 'Let me see how I can harm people'," he said.

Kapp said she has confidence in the board. "They're very thoughtful people," she said, "and they are taking this very seriously."

Asion, too, will be awaiting Friday's outcome. "I sincerely hope they would do the right thing and not fold to political pressure."