They are children, not illegals or aliens.

They are children, not illegals or aliens.

- in Fitzsimon File

The glee is almost palpable on right-wing avenue these days with the news that the state’s community college system is now prohibiting individual campuses from denying admission to academically qualified students based on their immigration status.

The Pope Civitas Institute issued a news release Tuesday about the “illegals,” citing a recent memo from Community College officials advising all campuses to follow State Board’s regulations and begin admitting qualified students who do not have proper documentation.

The majority of the system’s 57 campuses have already been allowing undocumented students to enroll if they pay out-of-state tuition of more than $7,400 a year, well above the $5,375 Community College officials say it costs the state to educate one student.

The news release set off the rhetorical firestorm that the Civitasers must have hoped for, with politicians expressing various degrees of outrage about children who have succeeded in public schools in North Carolina having the opportunity to continue their education at a community college.

Congresswoman Sue Myrick called it a stupid policy. State Senator Richard Stevens said he couldn’t believe that taxpayers would be asked to pay for the education of people who are here illegally. Rep. Winkie Wilkins said he was “blindsided.”

But the policy makes sense. Federal courts have held since 1982 that undocumented children are entitled to a free public school education. The decision by the United States Supreme Court that year ruled that denying education to children unfairly punished them for something their parents did.

The children have no say where they live. They didn’t decide to come to the United States. Their parents brought them here in the pursuit of a better life and with the hope that at some point sanity would prevail and elected officials would develop a comprehensive approach to immigration that would streamline the citizenship process, and provide an ultimate path to citizenship for the 12 million people currently here without documentation.

The children have no say in any of that. They just get up every morning and go to school and in many cases head off to work after classes end. They are easy targets for folks like the Civitasers who asked in the news release if the state is “telling kids that it’s ok to break the law?”

The answer is that the community college system is actually telling the kids to keep doing the best they can everyday to improve themselves while the insanity of the immigration debate continues.

Putting aside what’s the best policy for the children and the state, the claims about the taxpayers subsidizing the education of people who shouldn’t be here don’t hold up in this case. The undocumented children attending community college are paying more than it costs the state to educate them. They are actually subsidizing the community college system, not the other way around.

The Civitas folks respond to that inconvenient fact by claiming that the figures do not take into account the costs of buildings and facilities built in to the cost of a community college education.

But the Charlotte Observer reports that with most community colleges already admitting undocumented students, only 340 of the system’s 270,000 students fell into that category, or one tenth of one percent. That’s hardly a burden on the facilities.

But this isn’t about buildings or money. It is about finding another way to continue the demonization of immigrants to keep a divisive issue alive for the 2008 elections, this time by attacking children who are working hard everyday to learn about their adopted country and improve their chances of succeeding where they live.

North Carolina ought to be better than that. And good for the leadership of the State Community College system for trying to be.