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Yearning to learn, but rule says no

Laura could barely finish her pizza after a friend told her that Central Piedmont Community College would no longer accept students living illegally in the country.

The 18-year-old, a brand new Charlotte high school graduate, wants to be an engineer. It's a prospect that wouldn't have seemed out of the question considering her 4.0 grade point average, college coursework and honors awards. Until now.

“What am I supposed to do?” said Laura. “All my hard work in middle school and high school is going in the trash.”

She hoped to attend CPCC for two years before entering a four-year-school. But her plans collided with what academics are calling the toughest immigration-admissions policy ever by a statewide college system.

Weeks before an estimated 250 undocumented students in Charlotte and hundreds more across the state received high school diplomas, the N.C. Community College System announced that its 58 campuses would no longer accept undocumented students into degree programs.

In doing so, the system bucked a national trend to make it easier for immigrants to get on college campuses.. Legislators in almost half the country are considering in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. No statewide college system until now has barred illegal immigrants from seeking a degree, according to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

“The rug has been pulled out from underneath them,” said Ruben Campillo, advocacy coordinator at the Latin American Coalition in Charlotte. “This one little opening they had has been taken away.”

Supporters for stricter immigration enforcement say illegal immigrants have been taking up the college seats of U.S. citizens and legal residents. They praise the community college decision and hope it will set a national precedent.

South Carolina followed suit. Gov. Mark Sanford signed a bill that, among other restrictions, bans illegal immigrants from attending any public institution of higher learning.

Ron Woodard, head of the Cary-based NC Listen, says he's sympathetic to the academic goals of illegal immigrants. But he says they should return to home countries if they want higher educations. “We can't take everyone.” William Gheen, president of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, said the government must eliminate incentives that draw illegal immigrants.

“We must de-magnify the state.”

The impact

N.C. community college officials say they know of 112 of 297,000 degree-seeking students who are undocumented. They will be allowed to finish their course work.

Officials at CPCC, the system's largest college, said they know of 19 students who enrolled last fall – too few to take seats from legal residents.

Gheen thinks there are many more undocumented students who the colleges have not accounted for.

It's unclear what impact the statewide ban on enrolling illegal immigrants will have. Schools are limited in the steps they can take to verify an applicant's immigration status.

Van Wilson, the community college system's associate vice president of academic and student services, said campuses are requesting the same information they used to determine if immigrant students were eligible for in-state tuition. But they are now asking more probing questions about backgrounds and places of birth.

Wilson said schools can't check for phony Social Security numbers, since the free federal verification programs are open only to businesses.

CPCC will rely in part on its application form, which Haigler says includes “certain flags” that would identify an illegal resident. Haigler would not give details on what those indicators are because she said it could help unqualified applicants get around them.

Laura does not plan to apply.

She is a typical high school grad who totes around designer looking handbags and blushes when she admits her favorite movie is “Finding Nemo.” But with her grades, test scores and extra-curricular activities, she could compete for spots at the top N.C. colleges.

Her father, Mario, sitting on a park bench with his daughter near her old school, said he immigrated 10 years ago so his family could have more opportunities and financial stability.

He realized Laura's potential, he said, when she learned English in less than a year and started bringing home report cards filled with As.

Her teachers are saddened.

“I've been trying to encourage her to go to college,” said her ROTC instructor, “and she just told me that she can't go to college. It bothers me. The more education we can get for these kids, the better our society and our country will be.”

On campus

On the subject of immigration, feelings on the CPCC campus are as mixed as they are across the country.

Freshman Latoya Chapman, 18, and Scott Clarkson, 20, question why the state would allow illegal immigrants to attend public colleges if they're not supposed to be in the country in the first place.

Humza Ismail, 22, and Adrianne Treible, 25, say anyone wanting an education should have a chance to get one.

Treible said illegal immigrants “should not be allowed to get financial aid if I can't get it,” but if they're willing to pay the higher out-of-state tuition “what's the problem?”

Even before the policy change, Laura's options were limited. Because of her immigration status, she is ineligible for financial aid or government grants that could have helped offset the costs of college.

Any school had to be close to home so she could save on room and board. UNC Charlotte, though close, would charge her $7,000 a semester – too much for her father, an air-conditioning mechanic, to pay. CPCC is about half that.

“CPCC was the only option,” her father said. “Now there is nothing.”

Laura moves to a swing in the park. She says she'll probably use some of her college money to buy a cheap car for work. Maybe she can work through the fall, save, and see if she can afford UNCC.

“It's way more expensive,” she said. “It's like they're putting up a wall and stopping us from achieving our dreams.”

Laura could barely finish her pizza after a friend told her that Central Piedmont Community College would no longer accept students living illegally in the country.

The 18-year-old, a brand new Charlotte high school graduate, wants to be an engineer. It's a prospect that wouldn't have seemed out of the question considering her 4.0 grade point average, college coursework and honors awards. Until now.

“What am I supposed to do?” said Laura. “All my hard work in middle school and high school is going in the trash.”

She hoped to attend CPCC for two years before entering a four-year-school. But her plans collided with what academics are calling the toughest immigration-admissions policy ever by a statewide college system.

Weeks before an estimated 250 undocumented students in Charlotte and hundreds more across the state received high school diplomas, the N.C. Community College System announced that its 58 campuses would no longer accept undocumented students into degree programs.

In doing so, the system bucked a national trend to make it easier for immigrants to get on college campuses.. Legislators in almost half the country are considering in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. No statewide college system until now has barred illegal immigrants from seeking a degree, according to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

“The rug has been pulled out from underneath them,” said Ruben Campillo, advocacy coordinator at the Latin American Coalition in Charlotte. “This one little opening they had has been taken away.”

Supporters for stricter immigration enforcement say illegal immigrants have been taking up the college seats of U.S. citizens and legal residents. They praise the community college decision and hope it will set a national precedent.

South Carolina followed suit. Gov. Mark Sanford signed a bill that, among other restrictions, bans illegal immigrants from attending any public institution of higher learning.

Ron Woodard, head of the Cary-based NC Listen, says he's sympathetic to the academic goals of illegal immigrants. But he says they should return to home countries if they want higher educations. “We can't take everyone.” William Gheen, president of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, said the government must eliminate incentives that draw illegal immigrants.

“We must de-magnify the state.”

The impact

N.C. community college officials say they know of 112 of 297,000 degree-seeking students who are undocumented. They will be allowed to finish their course work.

Officials at CPCC, the system's largest college, said they know of 19 students who enrolled last fall – too few to take seats from legal residents.

Gheen thinks there are many more undocumented students who the colleges have not accounted for.

It's unclear what impact the statewide ban on enrolling illegal immigrants will have. Schools are limited in the steps they can take to verify an applicant's immigration status.

Van Wilson, the community college system's associate vice president of academic and student services, said campuses are requesting the same information they used to determine if immigrant students were eligible for in-state tuition. But they are now asking more probing questions about backgrounds and places of birth.

Wilson said schools can't check for phony Social Security numbers, since the free federal verification programs are open only to businesses.

CPCC will rely in part on its application form, which Haigler says includes “certain flags” that would identify an illegal resident. Haigler would not give details on what those indicators are because she said it could help unqualified applicants get around them.

Laura does not plan to apply.

She is a typical high school grad who totes around designer looking handbags and blushes when she admits her favorite movie is “Finding Nemo.” But with her grades, test scores and extra-curricular activities, she could compete for spots at the top N.C. colleges.

Her father, Mario, sitting on a park bench with his daughter near her old school, said he immigrated 10 years ago so his family could have more opportunities and financial stability.

He realized Laura's potential, he said, when she learned English in less than a year and started bringing home report cards filled with As.

Her teachers are saddened.

“I've been trying to encourage her to go to college,” said her ROTC instructor, “and she just told me that she can't go to college. It bothers me. The more education we can get for these kids, the better our society and our country will be.”

On campus

On the subject of immigration, feelings on the CPCC campus are as mixed as they are across the country.

Freshman Latoya Chapman, 18, and Scott Clarkson, 20, question why the state would allow illegal immigrants to attend public colleges if they're not supposed to be in the country in the first place.

Humza Ismail, 22, and Adrianne Treible, 25, say anyone wanting an education should have a chance to get one.

Treible said illegal immigrants “should not be allowed to get financial aid if I can't get it,” but if they're willing to pay the higher out-of-state tuition “what's the problem?”

Even before the policy change, Laura's options were limited. Because of her immigration status, she is ineligible for financial aid or government grants that could have helped offset the costs of college.

Any school had to be close to home so she could save on room and board. UNC Charlotte, though close, would charge her $7,000 a semester – too much for her father, an air-conditioning mechanic, to pay. CPCC is about half that.

“CPCC was the only option,” her father said. “Now there is nothing.”

Laura moves to a swing in the park. She says she'll probably use some of her college money to buy a cheap car for work. Maybe she can work through the fall, save, and see if she can afford UNCC.

“It's way more expensive,” she said. “It's like they're putting up a wall and stopping us from achieving our dreams.”

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