Wanted: Straight talk on immigrants and college

Washington's pitiful failure to reform immigration has left the Tar Heel state facing sticky questions. One of them: whether to allow undocumented residents to enroll in community colleges and universities so long as they pay higher, non-resident tuition.

The biggest question is not whether adults who broke the law to come here ought to go to public colleges. It's whether graduates of N.C. high schools who were brought here as young children by their parents should get access to higher education.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama delved into that N.C. issue in an interview with WUNC radio this week. Obama said he favored allowing illegal immigrants to enroll in community colleges.

His clear, cogent explanation made us wish the two candidates seeking to be the state's next governor, Democrat Bev Perdue and Republican Pat McCrory, had the political will to show the same kind of leadership.

“For all practical purposes, they are an American kid and for us to deny them access to community colleges, even though they have never lived in Mexico … or Poland … is to deny that this is how we've always built this country up,” Obama said.

He's right. It's wrong to deny kids who have lived here most of their lives, who have good grades and a good record the opportunity to get skills and knowledge that can make them better residents.

It's also impractical. Eventually there will be – there must be – a path to legal status for such residents. Education increases the odds they will earn more, pay higher taxes and contribute more throughout their lifetime.

That's the path North Carolina's next governor ought to urge the state toward instead of practicing demogoguery.

Yes, we are a nation of laws. But we are also a nation of immigrants.