North Carolina’s State Board of Community Colleges cast a final vote Friday morning to admit illegal immigrants to the state’s 58 campuses but with key restrictions and the possibility that the issue still could stall in the legislature.
Illegal immigrants will have to pay out of state tuition, about $7,700 a year, and they can be removed from a class if it is full and a legal resident wants in.
The vote was the final step in approving a new rule to allow admission. The board voted to allow illegal immigrants into classes under the restrictions last September. Today’s vote confirmed that decision after a public hearing in December and written comments.
Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, a member of the board, voted against the new policy today and in September.
The debate, however, may not be settled. The new rule now goes to the state Rules Review Commission. If the commission receives ten written objections asking for the legislature to review the rule, then it goes to the General Assembly. The legislature can pass a law blocking the rule. It would be up to Democratic leaders in the House and Senate whether to allow such a bill to come to a vote. If lawmakers take no action, the rule goes into effect.
Advocates of immigration reform applauded Monday’s vote by the board. Tony Asion, executive director of El Pueblo, said the vote was a “no brainer,” given that young people would be educated and at no cost to the state, since out of state tuition exceeds the community colleges’ costs. “We have no problem incarcerating somebody at a cost of $39,000 a year,” Asion said, “but we don’t want to educate them at no cost? That makes no sense to me.”
The requirement for out of state tuition, however, won’t last long, said William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, which opposes admission for illegal immigrants. “This is a bad vote. It’s part of a much larger national agenda,” Gheen said. “There’s an agenda afoot here, and they intend to given (illegal immigrants) all the benefits of full American citizens.” He said proponents of admitting illegal immigrants waited until after Democrats won the election for governor in 2008 to push the issue.
In May 2008, the system became one of the first in the country to ban illegal immigrants entirely. At the time, N.C. Community College System President Scott Ralls announced the schools would adhere to a recommendation by the office of N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, citing federal laws, to stop enrolling undocumented students. The attorney general's office later reversed its opinion, but the board decided to halt any additional action until it could review its policy. The review, completed in April by the consulting firm JBL Associates, found that the colleges could profit from accepting illegal immigrants if they paid out-of-state tuition.