Our guest blogger is Henry Fernandez, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund focusing on state and municipal policy.
The North Carolina Attorney General’s office decided yesterday that undocumented immigrant students cannot attend public colleges in their state. This decision to cut off opportunity for one group of North Carolina residents affects even those children who have gone to North Carolina public schools since kindergarten, and cannot remember ever living anywhere other than North Carolina.
This finding appears to have been unnecessary and could have been decided differently, as a prior Attorney General had found that these same students could attend. It turns out that there are only a handful of undocumented students attending North Carolina community and four year public colleges, and all of these are paying full tuition, effectively subsidizing other North Carolina residents who pay the lower in-state tuition.
The state estimates that of approximately 471,000 students in its public colleges, only 367 (or less than one tenth of one percent) are undocumented immigrants. So it is not clear what problem opponents of these students were trying to solve. However, removing even the hope of attending college for undocumented students currently in elementary or high school in North Carolina seems particularly unfair. Most of these kids arrived in the United States with their parents as young children and had no choice in the matter. Nor would most have any idea how to get around in their parents’ home countries.
Ensuring that undocumented immigrant children cannot get a higher education is a mistake. The United States needs all of the well educated workers we can get. Since these young people have no connection to any country outside the United States, they will remain in North Carolina, without a college education. Thus, they will be less likely to hold a job that lifts them out of poverty and when they start their families, their children will be less likely to escape poverty or to do well in school.
It is precisely because these children have worked hard while playing by the rules, and because education ends the cycle of poverty, that progressives support the Dream Act, which would provide in-state tuition and a path to citizenship for children who have grown up here, played by the rules, and want to go to college. And decisions like today’s by the North Carolina Attorney General are why our country needs to pass a national comprehensive immigration law that creates a path to citizenship for those 12 million undocumented immigrants already here, while ending the state by state approach that continues to fail to solve a problem which should be handled by the Congress and President.