By Laura Smith
On Sept. 17, about 50 concerned North Carolinians waved flags, held up signs and made their voices heard in a protest in downtown Raleigh against the acceptance of illegal immigrants into N.C. community colleges.
“This isn’t a great solution for America,” said Frank Roche, who is running for Congress in the fourth district of North Carolina. “It’s an incentive for more illegal immigrants to come.”
The State Board of Community Colleges approved the decision that day with only one member to vote against the matter, according to a press release from the North Carolina Community College System.
“This policy reflects the admissions standards of other states and of the public universities by offering educational opportunities to those who are willing to work hard to obtain it,” said R. Scott Ralls, president of the NCCCS.
Since May 2008, there has been a no-admissions policy for illegal immigrants. Now, with the new policy, illegal immigrants can enroll in any of the 58 community colleges in North Carolina if they have graduated from a U.S. high school.
According to an outside consultant’s report, community colleges had 111 illegal immigrants enrolled in the 2007-2008 school year.
Ron Woodard, a Cary resident and the president of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, was at the protest to show his dissaproval of the decision. He also spoke at Elon University several years ago at an immigration debate.
“I’m confused about why, with the 11 percent unemployment rate, we’re helping immigrants get education,” Woodard said. “We’re taking it away from North Carolinians.”
He said he is also concerned about how changing the current law will look on behalf of the state.
“We’re sending out the message that the rule of law doesn’t matter,” Woodard said.
With the new policy, illegal immigrants will have to pay the out-of-state tuition rate of $7,700 per year and cannot apply for financial aid. They also may not displace a North Carolina or U.S. resident from a class or program.
For some, the decision is one of great benefit to the state.
“This is not a policy the Board came to lightly or without contemplation and study, but with Thursday’s vote, North Carolina is a step closer to having a consistent admissions policy for undocumented immigrants among its public higher education institutions,” said Hilda Pinniz-Ragland, Board chair. “Once the administrative rules process is completed, our community colleges will be able to cease the back-and-forth of the last eight years, and these students, who are striving for a better future, will have access to a seamless educational pathway from K-12 and beyond.”
For those who protested the decision, the matter was one of great concern and, despite the rain last Thursday, the picketers stood their ground on the issue.
Pam Patterson of Raleigh came with her family to argue against the new rule.
“I feel like we’re going to pay a lot more for so-called benefits of having these illegals,” she said. “It’s about preserving this county. It’s part of the reason we’re going bankrupt. We have to give them benefits and educate their children.”
While Patterson respects the motives of illegal immigrants, she hasn’t been able to bring herself to agree with the policy, she said.
“As good-hearted as you are, you can’t let in everyone,” she said. “A system that ignores the laws it passes has a very bad future. If people don’t respect the law, we’re in trouble.”
William Gheen of Raleigh organized the protest because the public was not allowed to voice its opinion, he said.
“Sixty to 80 percent of North Carolinians oppose what they’re trying to do,” he said. “We either had to organize something like this or walk away.”
The policy must go through the administrative rules process, which usually takes six to 12 months.
N.C. legislature will still have the opportunity to reject the rule or override it with its own law in May when it reconvenes. Until then, the current law of not allowing undocumented immigrants into community colleges will remain.