by Glenn Hutchinson
Consider this scenario: Your parents bring you to the United States when you are four years old. You are an undocumented citizen that grows up in the land of McDonald’s and American Idol. You attend public school and graduate high school. You want to pursue your American dream and attend college. Thousands of young people are in this kind of limbo: this is home but they are told it’s not their home.
So what can you do? Your options depend on many factors, including your home state. For example, although only 111 undocumented students were taking classes in 2007-08, North Carolina decided last year to ban them from their community colleges. However, there is an effort to reverse this ban.
Criticism of this policy prompted the State Community College Board to commission a study (at a cost to taxpayers of $75,000). The findings concluded that only one other state, South Carolina, prohibits by law undocumented students from school, and that there was no negative economic effect for undocumented students to take classes at their community college.
Then in September 2009, there was a glimmer of hope: the Board recommended that undocumented students be permitted to take classes but with certain regulations, including that they have to pay out-of-state tuition (like they can at the university system) and they can only register after documented students have signed up for classes.
This change has yet to be implemented, and even if it is, such restrictions continue to separate and marginalize undocumented students. And many state officials, including Gov. Purdue (D), want to continue the ban, voicing the view of some North Carolinians who believe that non-citizens should not have any of these opportunities. Worse, in my city of Charlotte, there has been aggressive enforcement of the 287(g) policy that has deported thousands of undocumented immigrants, many of whom were initially stopped for minor traffic offenses. Unfortunately, our community college system is adding to these unfair policies.
There is some hope. Ten states allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, including Texas, New York, and California. But even if activists are successful in getting North Carolina to reverse its ban, the problem will not be solved until Congress decides to pass the Dream Act and comprehensive immigration legislation so that students are able to pursue their American dream and be legal citizens in what they consider their home.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Dream Act, federal legislation that would help young people continue their education and provide a pathway for citizenship, visit this site: http://dreamact2009.com. As Marie Gonzalez, an activist for the Dream Act, said, “I can personally attest to how life in limbo is no way to live. Having been torn apart from my parents for almost two years and struggling to make it on my own, I know what it is like to face difficulty and how hard it is to fight for your dreams. No matter what, I will always consider the United States of America my home. I love this country.”
Collins, Kristin. “Colleges could take illegal immigrants, but at higher cost.” Charlotteobserver.com. 18 Sept. 2009.
—. “Illegal-immigrant college ban reviewed.” Charlotteobserver.com. 19 Sept. 2009.
“’Hollow Victory’ for Undocumented Students.” Inside Higher Ed. 21 Sept. 2009.
“N.C. system examines illegal immigrant rules.” Community College Times. 28 April 2009.
“Marie Gonzalez Wins Another Deferment.” 11 April 2008. http://www.dreamactivist.org/Glenn Hutchinson is an Assistant Professor of English at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina