Don't blame undocumented students

On Aug. 14 the State Board of Community Colleges will vote on whether to end the moratorium that banned illegal immigrants from degree programs within the system. The issue is being called into question after the state's attorney general, under advisement from the Department of Homeland Security, reversed his position on admitting illegal immigrants, noting that their acceptance would not be a violation of federal law.

N.C. at a crossroads

North Carolina thus stands at a crossroads. The clarification offered by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division of DHS allows our state to make whichever decision we regard as most sound.

From a cost-benefit perspective, the state benefits greatly from admitting illegal immigrants. Stephen Scott, president of Wake Technical College, has noted that illegal immigrants, who pay out-of-state-rates, offer a tuition that is a boon to the state's budget. They pay more than it costs the state to provide them the classes.

While the decision will ultimately involve this sort of economic analysis, the State Board of Community College should also consider the personal aspect of this situation. Individuals who crossed the border at a young age with their family are hardly the ones who should be held accountable for the issue of illegal immigrants. The teenagers effected by the decision are mostly hard-working individuals, who have overcome a number of obstacles and hope to obtain education (at out-of-state-rates) at community colleges so they can function as normal members of society. These adolescents were not, for the most part, the ones who made the decision to cross the border. They are, however, easy scapegoats and targets for a society unsure of the role immigrants will play in the years to come.

North Carolina should avoid punishing students for their parents' actions and, instead, recognize the drive for self improvement that led these students to apply for admission in the first place.

It is tantalizingly easy to view the issue as a mere policy decision, rather than to consider its effects on individual lives. The decision will effect a small fraction of people – of the nearly 300,000 curriculum students in community colleges statewide, officials say only 112 are illegal. A much more important consideration involves the psychological effect that blocking access to further education has on students. Students who are illegal immigrants and have no viable pathway to higher education have fewer incentives to succeed in high school and to contribute in positive ways to the communities in which they live.

According to the National Immigration Law Center, about 65,000 students graduate from U.S. high schools each year who have been in this country more than five years but face limited prospects for jobs or further education because they were brought here by parents who came illegally. Among those we know of who have been prevented from working legally or completing their education are valedictorians and honor students.

Give students an opportunity

Even if the moratorium is lifted, these students will continue to face a number of obstacles. As noted by Ricardo Sanchez, chairman of the Latino Educational Achievement Project in Seattle, even students with access to college “still have considerable obstacles. Even with a degree they still won't be able to work here legally.”

Our country's immigration problem is not their fault. Our state and our nation must work to develop legitimate pathways – not roadblocks – for minors who immigrated with their family at a young age.