RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina’s community college board on Friday approved allowing illegal immigrants to enroll next year, a move that could drop a contentious issue in the lap of state lawmakers in an election year.
The State Board of Community Colleges voted 13-1 to admit illegal immigrants to classrooms if they graduated from a U.S. high school, pay out-of-state tuition of about $7,700 a year and don’t displace a citizen. The opposing vote came from Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton.
The country’s third-largest community college system has changed its illegal immigrant admission policy four times since 2000. The change on admitting foreign citizens comes at a time when unemployed workers are jamming classrooms.
But North Carolina also has one of the country’s largest populations of illegal immigrants, with about 678,000 in 2008, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
The enrollment rules are comparable to those already in effect for University of North Carolina campuses.
“But we also recognized the needs of our state’s citizens to have every educational opportunity available by adding the caveat that a North Carolina or U.S citizen could not be displaced by an undocumented immigrant,” community colleges board chairwoman Hilda Pinnix-Ragland said.
The policy now must be reviewed by a state commission that reviews administrative rules. Written objections to the policy from 10 residents would send it to the General Assembly, which could block the liberalized admissions by passing a law. Democratic leaders in the state House and Senate would decide whether to take the issue to a vote.
Americans for Legal Immigration PAC President William Gheen said opponents of illegal immigration will raise objections and leave it for Democratic legislative leaders to decide whether to reverse the community colleges board.
“We would love for the Legislature to take this up,” Gheen said. “This is a position that should have been taken by our elected officials, but instead it was done by bureaucrats appointed by the Democratic machine.”
Republican state Reps. Wil Neumann and Pearl Burris-Floyd, both of Gaston County, have said they’ll seek legislative action to overturn the revamped admissions policy.
Democratic State Treasurer Janet Cowell voted in favor of the revised policy.
“Anyone that seeks a higher education and has the desire to be a contributing member of society should have the opportunity to do so,” Cowell said. “I believe this is in the best economic interest of our state now and in the future.”
Dalton, also a Democrat, issued a statement saying: “It is simply not the right time to place greater demands on our community colleges.”
Asked to clarify how illegal immigrants would overburden community colleges if they paid the full cost of their education and took instructional slots otherwise unfilled, Dalton issued a second statement citing capacity and cost problems.
“The issue is really about access to our community colleges. Due to budget cutbacks, thousands of high school students were denied access to dual enrollment programs. In addition, tuition was raised on all students which further limits access when the demands for education are at an all time high,” he said.