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The Daily Tar Heel

Group Seeks Bill For Immigrants' Higher Education

Despite the increased presence of resident aliens in North Carolina's labor force, noncitizen immigrants are barred from attending North Carolina's public universities.

State Sen. Bill Martin, D-Guilford, has taken the lead by proposing a bill in the Senate Higher Education Committee on Tuesday funding a study to ascertain the need for such a bill.

"The primary goals for the study are to decide whether it's feasible to offer in-state tuition to noncitizens who've been going to North Carolina schools for a couple of years," Martin said.

He also said the study would delve into the legalities of a situation that could have constitutional ramifications.

Sen. Hamilton Horton, R-Forsyth, another committee member, said he agrees with Martin on the need for a study and possibly a bill.

"We've got young people here who are hardworking," Hamilton said. "Are we just going to put a glass ceiling on them?"

Martin also cited lessening this "glass ceiling" effect as an objective for enacting the bill.

"First, it provides access to higher education that wouldn't be available in other instances," he said. "And it's also intended to cut the high school dropout rate."

Martin argued that if high school students do not believe they can go to college, many will drop out before graduating.

But not everyone agrees all resident aliens should be educated in the public university system.

Some critics of the legislation, such as The Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group seeking to strengthen immigration laws, contend that illegal aliens should not be educated with state tax dollars because they cannot legally work.

But Gretchen Bataille, UNC-system senior vice president of Academic Affairs, disagreed, saying cost is not really an issue.

"Most of the students we're talking about wouldn't be able to afford out-of-state tuition anyway," she said. "So it's not like the state would be losing money in offering them in-state tuition."

And El Pueblo Executive Director Andrea Manson said the group's focus is to make sure all Hispanics are able to receive an education.

"We're not honing in on illegal aliens, but any Latinos that have lived and gone to school in North Carolina for a year," she said.

Bataille echoed Manson, saying that education has more than one purpose. "I think college prepares us for life, which includes preparing us for work but not exclusively," she said.

But regardless of theoretical disagreements, Manson argued that people should be looking at the practical realities of the situation.

"All of the Latinos coming here are coming because the industries are telling them to," she said. "Part of our responsibility as a state, if we're going to bring in a labor force, is to offer that labor force opportunities for education."

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