DMI Blog

Cristina Jimenez

Shame on North Carolina: Education Is Denied to Immigrant Youth

Despite her 4.0 grade point average, Laura, an aspiring engineer and a recent graduate from Charlotte high school in North Carolina will not be able to go to college. The land of opportunity has denied her access to a college education.

In May, advised by N.C Attorney General, Roy Cooper, the state’s Community College System banned undocumented students from enrolling in community colleges. Cooper stated that admitting undocumented students to any of their 58 community colleges violates federal immigration law. In a clarifying letter, however, the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) explained that federal immigration law does not prohibit undocumented students from accessing higher education. It was up to the Community College System to decide whether or not to admit undocumented students into their colleges.

This clarification, however, was not enough to remove the ban. The Community College System decided to keep the ban until a decision was made by the State Board of Community Colleges. On Friday, influenced by the anti-immigrant rhetoric, the Board voted to deny the entry of undocumented students until they complete a study that can help to draft a permanent policy. Since when do we need a study to conclude that someone should have the right to an education? Denying a college education to young people who are eager to learn and progress does not speak to the values of this country.

The decision made by the State Board of Community Colleges is not only out of touch with our values as a nation; it’s also encouraging the creation of an under class. Unable to attend college, these students would have no other option than to become part of the underground economy and, like their parents, be vulnerable to exploitation. Knowing that they won’t be able to attend college, undocumented high school students would have fewer incentives to graduate from high school. The result, as we have seen in Iowa: under age immigrants being exploited at a meatpacking plant.

Supporters of the ban and stricter immigration enforcement argue that these students have been taking up the college seats of U.S Citizens and legal residents, but the reality is that only 112 of the close to 300,000 students enrolled in N.C.’s Community Colleges are undocumented. And for those that are enrolled, it has not been an easy journey. They must pay out-of-state tuition rates (five times higher than in-state tuition), which exceeds the cost of their education. Instead of attacking and marginalizing undocumented students, supporters of the ban must realize that a college education is becoming less of reality for most Americans and we cannot punish undocumented students for it.

Since 2001 Congress has failed to remove the obstacles faced by Laura and the estimated 1.8 million undocumented children. A piece of legislation known as the DREAM Act would allow children who entered the country before age 16, lived here continuously for at least five years, graduate from high school and can show good moral character to apply for a conditional legal status for six years. During this time, these young people could go to college or serve in the military. If they complete at least two years of a college education or military service, they would be eligible for permanent residency status.

After all, the DREAM Act is what America is – or is supposed to be – all about.

Cristina Jimenez: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 2:30 PM, Aug 18, 2008 in Education | Immigration
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