Editorial: Well-studied decision

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In revising its policy on allowing undocumented immigrants to attend N.C. community colleges, the college board reached a decision that addresses some relevant concerns while also recognizing some realities about illegal immigration.
Under the new policy, which replaces a previous ban on admitting undocumented students, some students who couldn’t attend college may now be able to continue their education. But this is no open-door invitation to take a free ride on taxpayers. It’s more like a crack that appears under specific guidelines: The students can’t jump into line ahead of legal citizens who are also seeking college admission. Undocumented students must pay out-of-state tuition. They can’t receive financial aid and must be graduates of a U.S. high school.
With those stipulations, the policy mitigates the impact on legal N.C. residents. In fact, as a practical matter, the change is likely to have little impact on enrollment. But as with any issue involving this highly charged subject, the policy change sparked a swift response from critics. When the Post asked readers for their reaction, more than 40 comments were posted, most of them opposed to admitting undocumented immigrants to community colleges under any circumstances. Several of those posting comments argued that since the would-be students were here illegally, even though often through no choice of their own, they should not be afforded access to higher education. “Criminals forfeit their rights,” one comment said. Opponents of the policy also contend it may encourage future illegal immigrantion or undermine respect for other laws. The undocumented are thus consigned to also be uneducated.
Illegal immigration is a serious, costly problem, both for the nation as well as North Carolina ó costly both in terms of dollars spent and the burden it imposes on law enforcement, medical facilities and, yes, our schools. But the solution to that problem lies in comprehensive immigration reform, not in treating undocumented students as if their “crime” puts them in the same category as drug traffickers, gang members or repeat interlopers across the border.
Undocumented students shouldn’t supplant legal citizens in community colleges, and they should pay their own way, as the new policy mandates. That won’t sway immigration hardliners who admit no gradations of culpability and may even persist in the fantasy of massive deportations. The reality, however, is that many of the students affected by this policy are here to stay, and they aspire to legal citizenship. For a few, this policy change may help bring that a step closer.