Days before a state board is scheduled to take up the issue, U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick announced a bill that would remove federal funding from colleges and universities that knowingly admit illegal immigrants.
Myrick, a Charlotte Republican who has made immigration a core component of her re-election campaign, said Wednesday that she would introduce her bill in September, when Congress reconvenes.
Recent state developments, Myrick said, have led her to seek clarity on the legality of allowing illegal immigrants to enroll.
The congresswoman said lawyers were still writing her bill, so she was not able to provide a copy for the media. However, Myrick said the immigration proposal would not target student loans. Instead it would focus on grants and federal dollars that go specifically to offending schools.
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“We can't just wink at (the problem) and pretend it doesn't exist,” Myrick said. “Illegal is illegal.”
News of Myrick's proposal disappointed some in Charlotte's Hispanic community.
Rafael Prieto is publisher of Mi Gente, a Charlotte-area Spanish-language newspaper. He said the proposal proves Myrick doesn't care about the people hurt by her bill.
“We, all of us, have already invested a lot in these young people,” he said. “We have invested in them as they made their way through school. And now what, we are just going to tell them they can't work for a better life.”
On Tuesday, the Latin American Coalition sent an e-mail encouraging the community to write to the state board and ask that it reinstate its admission policy for undocumented students.
This issue first caught the public's attention in May, when N.C. Community College System President Scott Ralls banned illegal immigrants from the system's 58 campuses. A month later S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford signed into law a bill in June that bans illegal immigrants from attending that state's public colleges.
The North Carolina decision reversed a policy that allowed illegal immigrant to pay out-of-state tuition and attend class and flew in the face of Gov. Mike Easley's request to keep campuses open to all.
Federal officials at the time said they had no authority in deciding who attends classes at the state level. Last month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it was up to individual states. No federal law banned the practice, they concluded.
The State Board of Community Colleges is to meet Friday to discuss the current ban. Prieto said he thinks Myrick unveiled her proposal now, to pressure the board.
“She wants them to come to her way of thinking,” he said.
Myrick has made illegal immigration one of the three core issues of her re-election campaign, along with terrorism and the economy. Earlier this year she worked to get an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center placed in Gaston County. County officials have said they might build a smaller jail to address local needs that could also be used for ICE detainees.
Currently illegal immigrants are still allowed to sign up for nondegree programs, including GED classes, English-as-a-Second-Language courses and classes for high school credit. State officials have said there are 112 illegal immigrants among the 297,000 students seeking degrees in community colleges across the state.
Officials with Central Piedmont Community College would not comment on Myrick's bill. Spokesperson Jerri Haigler said any relevant comment would have to come from the state level, where such decisions are made.