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Editorial: Undocumented and uneducated

In terms of avoiding judicial scrutiny ó and conflict with state legislators who wield power over the purse strings ó North Carolina’s community college system may have done the smart thing in deciding to reverse its policy of admitting illegal immigrants into degree programs. But it may not be smart in terms of the state’s best longterm interests.
The groundwork for the community college decision came last week, when the state Attorney General’s Office issued an advisory opinion recommending that the community college system drop an open admissions policy for illegal immigrants it adopted last year. That policy, implemented in November, superceded a 2001 policy that had allowed illegal immigrants to enroll only if they were high school students taking college-level classes, or if they took only non-college classes such as GED courses, or if they qualified for federal benefits to victims of extreme cruelty or battery. From its interpretation of federal guidelines, the state AG’s office said the state legislature would need to pass a law to allow the more open admissions policy, although federal immigration officials have said that isn’t necessary and states can do as they please. In other words, the federal bureaucracy’s guidance here appears as hazy and indifferent as it previously has been regarding border enforcement or curtailing the use of fake Social Security numbers.
If you believe that all illegal immigrants are created equal, there’s little debate necessary. Under this view, anyone here illegally is a criminal, regardless of whether that individual happens to be a 25-year-old serial deportee who drives drunk and otherwise creates mayhem or a 19-year-old woman who was brought here by her parents five years ago, excelled in high school and now sees college as a path to a better future and eventual citizenship. In this view, any potential benefit, such as the possibility of a college education for one’s children, becomes an incentive that encourages more illegal immigration.
There’s no denying that virtually all illegal immigrants are drawn here by incentives of one sort or another ó whether it’s the incentive of work, better living conditions, medical care, social services or, yes, education ó and reducing those incentives, along with strengthening America’s borders, is part of stemming illegal immigration. But in considering the state’s future, you have to wonder about the longterm effects of shutting off this avenue of higher education for the children of illegal immigrants. While college officials say the policy impacts only a fraction of students, it’s a fraction who are trying to integrate themselves into American life by mastering our language, pursuing an education and striving to be productive members of society. And in North Carolina, they’re paying out-of-state tuition in order to do so. Cutting off those aspirations won’t remove them and their families from our midst, but it does make it harder for them to eventually become the kind of citizens we say we want them to be.

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