DURHAM, N.C. — Last month, North Carolina’s community college system changed its policy to require its 58 campuses to enroll illegal immigrants if they met the schools' standards for other students.
This week, Gov. Mike Easley said North Carolina can't turn its back on anyone who wants an education, including illegal immigrants. But some are asking what the point is since it’s against the law to hire a well-educated illegal worker.
Attorney General Roy Cooper spoke about the issue and his involvement in it Thursday.
“The community colleges asked us, ‘What is the status of the law right now regarding illegal immigrants (being) given admission to North Carolina community colleges?’” Cooper said. “Our lawyers are researching the federal laws, the state laws, all of the statutes. We will be rendering an opinion to them very shortly.”
At Lee's Air Conditioning and Custom Sheet Metal, many employees come from the community college system. But there is a new crop of graduates that Human Resources Director Miles Standish said he won't bring on board.
“I will not hire people who come from the community college system that have been admitted [but are undocumented] and are admitted illegal aliens,” Standish said.
All companies must have new hires fill out the federal I-9 form. It verifies a person can legally work in the United States. Standish said that if he knowingly hired undocumented workers, he'd break federal law. He said he wonders what good it does to give immigrants a North Carolina education if they cannot enter the work force.
“It looks like they're presenting a product to me and it's nice in the window, but I can't buy it,” Standish said.
Latino advocates said employers can help such employees get work visas. They argue an education is about more than just a job.
“I think their status could change. The laws might change, and there are lots of immigration lawyers to help,” said Nadeen Bir, with El Centro Hispano. “It'll benefit everyone – the employers, community members – everyone in North Carolina, if the kids are in school and not on the streets.”
Standish said he sees North Carolina's education pass as a direct contradiction to federal law – a law he's not willing to break.
The UNC system recently announced it is considering allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition.