Children and politics

Published 5:42 pm Wednesday, August 20, 2008

By Staff
State Community College System President Scott Ralls told the Community College Board on Thursday morning that the system had changed its position on enrolling undocumented students five times in the last eight years.
By late morning Friday, it was six times, thanks largely to Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, who made the motion to keep the existing ban on undocumented students in place while a study is done to come up with a permanent policy.
Eleven of the 16 board members supported Perdue’s motion despite recent notice from immigration officials that federal law doesn’t prohibit the state from allowing the students to enroll.
The board voted in May to ban undocumented students after Attorney General Roy Cooper said enrolling them could be a violation of federal law. After a meeting Thursday, the board appeared ready to reverse the ban and allow the students on campus if they graduated from a North Carolina high school and pay out of state tuition, which is more than it cost the state to educate them.
Ralls made those points in his remarks to the board on Thursday morning and reminded board members that less than one half of 1 percent of the enrollees in degree programs are undocumented — 112 students.
He mentioned that many of the students were brought here by their parents when they were very young and that it was worth considering the role the students could play in the state’s economy when the federal government finally passed comprehensive immigration reform.
After Ralls’ remarks and the discussion that followed Thursday, it seemed almost certain that the board would lift the ban at its Friday meeting and not slam the door in face of qualified students who wanted to continue their education and could pay for it.
But the Democratic nominee for governor would have none of that. She expressed her support of the ban during the Thursday meeting, presented a letter to board members amplifying her position, and Friday made the motion.
The letter said there are sound arguments for slamming the door, including the “near certainty that the General Assembly will reject the entire effort when they reconvene in February.”
Perdue has said since the beginning of her run for governor that she wanted to deny access to public higher education to undocumented students, but at first seemed a little sheepish about it.
She is after all the candidate who says she wants “all of North Carolina” to be able to compete in the global economy and says often that she is for “greater access … for hard-working students.”
Her College Promise initiative is designed to help poor children attend a college or university, part of her vision of a “new North Carolina.” But none of that apparently applies if your parents brought you here when you were an infant, and you have graduated at the top of your high-school class and can afford to pay out of state tuition.
There’s no promise for those children in Perdue’s new North Carolina. And she is no longer sheepish about denying their access to higher education, she is now leading the rush to slam the door in their faces. This from the candidate who claims to be the progressive in the race.
Some political insiders will tell you that Perdue knows better and that it’s all just politics, that she has to take this position to get elected. If that’s true, that’s even more troubling and makes you wonder what else she doesn’t really believe.
Another part of politics is standing on principle and fighting to define the debate, not adopting positions based on polls and advice from political consultants, whose job is only to win, not to govern or lead or improve people’s lives.
In this case that would mean standing up for children, regardless of where they were born. That’s something Perdue now enthusiastically refuses to do.