Public colleges in North Carolina should not admit illegal immigrants as students, the state Attorney General’s Office advised in a letter released Wednesday.
If followed, the advice would reverse policies at the state’s 58 community colleges and at the 16 four-year institutions in the University of North Carolina system, which allow illegal immigrants to attend. It also damages a movement to grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrant teenagers who have attended North Carolina high schools.
The letter to the general counsel for the Community College System, which was dated Tuesday but released to The News & Observer on Wednesday, said that higher education is a public benefit that illegal immigrants are not entitled to under federal law.
The state could pass a law allowing students access regardless of their immigration status, the letter says. Otherwise, a policy prohibiting illegal immigrants “would more likely withstand judicial scrutiny,” wrote J.B. Kelly, general counsel in the office of Attorney General Roy Cooper.
Gov. Mike Easley also supported Lancaster’s decision. Efforts to reach Easley on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Leaders at the University of North Carolina System and the Community College System also declined to comment. Audrey Bailey, a spokeswoman for the community colleges, said President Scott Ralls was out of town at a funeral and had not yet reviewed the letter. “We’re taking it under advisement,” Bailey said.
Currently, only a handful of illegal immigrants are students at North Carolina’s universities and community colleges. The UNC system says 27 of its more than 200,000 students are illegal immigrants. The community colleges have reported that 340 of their 271,000 degree-seeking students are here illegally.
All pay out-of-state tuition, which is greater than the cost of their instruction—meaning the schools make a profit from these students.
However, many say that North Carolina should not provide higher education to illegal immigrants, regardless of the cost. And some argue that the costs are higher than the schools’ calculations show, when taking overhead and infrastructure into account.
‘The key word is “illegal”’
Federal law requires that elementary and secondary education be provided to all children, regardless of their immigration status. State Sen. Richard Stevens, of Cary, said the state should provide only what is required.
Advocates, including Bazán, called the advice “extreme.” Several states provide in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, and she said that in years of fighting for a similar policy in North Carolina, she has never heard this federal law invoked.