In 1795, the great state of North Carolina opened the first public institution of higher learning.
In 2008, we may become the first state to take away access to post-secondary education from an entire class of people.
Yesterday, Attorney General Roy Cooper's office issued an advisory statement that says our state's community colleges and universities should close their doors to the children of undocumented immigrants.
It was just last November that the NC Community College System changed its admissions policy, to allow any qualified applicant to enroll in their institutions. Non-residents would have to pay out of state tuition. This new policy brought the community college admissions policy into alignment with a policy the UNC system implemented in 2004.
Soon thereafter, the backlash again with the Pope Civitas Institute in the middle of it. I documented some of that in a previous post here.
Immigration and public education advocates had already been preparing to fight bills that were to be introduced in the coming short session of the General Assembly. As Sen. Richard Stevens (R-Cary) admitted to the N&O today, Republicans were preparing to introduce bills that would have prohibited undocumented immigrants from attending public institutions of higher learning. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have said that they did not think there was political will in either chamber to prevent such bills from proceeding.
In the midst of an election year, all of our political leaders are running for cover whenever the issue of immigration comes up. One of our gubernatorial candidates told me "This is a difficult policy issue." I call BS. This is an easy policy issue. It's a difficult political issue.
It's short sighted and immoral to withhold access to education. We're on the brink of becoming a state that sets a horrible precedent for human and civil rights. Do we really want to be the first state to withhold a public education from a group of people because of their status?
The AG's statement is based on the same kind of moral reasoning that southern states used to withhold public education from blacks and women. It uses a tenuous interpretation of federal law to exercise a state's rights argument, knowing full well that this state will not give undocumented immigrants the right to an education.
In fact, the Federal Statute that the opinion rests upon has already been ruled upon by the Federal District Court out of Virginia. That court said that the statue applied to grants, in-state tuition and other funding mechanisms are of state and local benefit. Admission is not. Admission is just admission and not a particular benefit per se. Therefore, giving admission is not in violation of the Federal statute. Which is exactly why no other state has taken this draconian step.
It's time to call upon members of the General Assembly to take a strong stance in favor of an educated populace. Federal immigration reform will happen eventually. When it does, thousands of children and young people in North Carolina will have the opportunity to apply for citizenship. Do we want them to be educated contributors to our great state or part of a permanent uneducated underclass?
I choose education every time.