State News

Community college panel OKs illegal immigrant enrollment

Posted September 17, 2009 4:01 a.m. EDT
Updated September 18, 2009 12:07 p.m. EDT

— A committee of the North Carolina Board of Community Colleges on Thursday approved a policy that would allow illegal immigrants to enroll at the two-year colleges.

A vote by the full board was expected Friday.

Under a proposed policy, students who aren't in the country legally but who graduated from a U.S. high school would have to pay out-of-state rates of about $7,000 a year. Also, lawful U.S. residents would have priority to crowded classrooms.

The country's third-largest community college system has changed its illegal immigrant admission policy four times since 2000. The latest look comes as laid-off workers fill classrooms.

Although the policy committee had little discussion of the proposal before unanimously approving it, about two dozen protesters gathered outside the Community College System offices to complain loudly about the plan.

"This is a very difficult economic time, where the focus and priority needs to be on suffering, innocent American families, not families that broke into our nation," said William Gheen, president of the Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee.

Protesters encouraged passing drivers to honk in opposition to allowing illegal immigrants to attend North Carolina's 58 community colleges.

"Basically, it's our schools, our colleges," one protester said. "People that ... pay taxes should be attending these schools."

Latino advocacy groups hailed the proposal, saying it would continue North Carolina's tradition of higher education support for state residents.

"I do think today was a step in the right direction," longtime educator Nancy Gallman said. "What this simply means is that more and more students are driven to go to college. I don't see that as a problem for this state. I see that as something we should be proud of."

Gov. Beverly Perdue said in an interview this week with WRAL News that she doesn't believe people who are in the U.S. illegally should be in community college classrooms.

"In all honesty and with due respect to the Board of Community Colleges, it's hard for me to understand why we would give an education to those who can't work legally in the country," Perdue said. "Either way, it's a hard choice. Kids need an education, but if they can't work, why do it?"