Having taught English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) students for the past two years on the Tex-Mex border town of Brownsville, the national trend toward limiting the futures and opportunities of immigrant students hurts me deeply. Many of my freshman ESL students earned a commended performance on this year’s challenging state reading/writing test. Students like these hard-working, highly-motivated immigrant students need to be given the opportunity to be productive citizens and use their array of gifts to make our nation a better place. It is in everyone’s interest to educate and enable every resident within American borders. It is because this first-hand experience with Mexican American immigrants that the North Carolina’s Attorney General’s decision struck me so deeply.
On May 13, 2008, the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office overturned a policy adopted in 2007 which enabled undocumented immigrants with a high-school diploma to gain admission to the fifty-eight colleges within that state. North Carolina’s community college system, the third largest in the country, currently enrolls more than 800,000 students annually (Waggoner, Martha). With the new policy, undocumented immigrants will no longer be allowed to pay out-of-state tuition to work towards an associate’s degree, although this recent ruling does not immediately affect English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL), GED, or continuing-education classes(Mills, Jeff).
Retired community college system president Martin Lancaster was disappointed with the recent ruling, stating, “I believe that every North Carolinian, everyone residing in our state who will ultimately become a part of our work force, should be educated” (Waggoner, Martha). Martin Nadelman, President of Alamance Community College, said, “Personally, I think if you’re permitted to go to public schools you ought to be able to continue your education past high school…I hate to see them not be able to go higher and better themselves” (Mills, Jeff). Rep. George Cleveland, a Republican sponsor of a bill designed to further bar undocumented immigrants from all college programs including ESL and continuing education classes, commented that, “”They’re illegal. It’s as simple as that…[t]he state should be doing anything it can to discourage illegal aliens from being in the state” (Illegal immigrant curbs may fail).
When the North Carolina Community College System first barred illegal immigrants from higher education in 2001, they were the first statewide system to do so. This prohibitive legislation was only briefly overturned from November 2007 until May 2008. According to the Raleigh-based Civitas think-tank analysis of U.S. Census data, nearly 10,000 undocumented immigrant students will be affected by this reversal of enrollment eligibility (Taylor, Jameson).
In three years, many of my 140 freshman students will be walking across the graduation stage in Brownsville, Texas. I will be there in the audience, clutching my newly-received graduation cap from the University of Minnesota School of Law and wondering where these bright young adults will be studying the following year. I hope that our nation has decided to invest in every mind of every child in the United States in pro-education and pro-immigrant bills such as the DreamAct (co-sponsored by Barack Obama). It is our hope that North Carolina acts alone in denying students the opportunity to study simply because of a lack of documentation, and that in three years’ time immigrant students will be afforded the chance to pursue their full potential in our nation’s institutions of higher learning.