Advocates vow to continue fight for immigrant children

By Ret Boney

RALEIGH, N.C. — Supporters of a bill to allow in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants gathered in Raleigh July 13 to discuss the defeat of the bill and vowed to work for its passage.

North Carolina has an economic and moral obligation to provide educational opportunity for immigrant children, former Gov. Jim Hunt told the crowd of more than 200 at Exploris museum in downtown Raleigh.

“Having a well-educated workforce is good for all of North Carolina,” he said. “Those children are now North Carolina’s children, and we should help every one of them get all the education they can get.”

The luncheon was hosted by NC Policy Watch, a project of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation that promotes public-policy debate, and El Pueblo, a Raleigh-based Hispanic advocacy group. (The Philanthropy Journal is a publication of the Fletcher Foundation.)

House bill 1183, Access to Higher Education and a Better Economic Future, was introduced in the state legislature in April and quickly attracted 35 co-sponsors.

The bill allows children of undocumented workers to pay in-state tuition to state universities and community colleges if they have graduated from a North Carolina high school, lived in the state for at least four years, and are in the process of establishing legal residency.

The bill ignited a heated debate on the talk-radio circuit and spurred angry calls and letters to supporters that ultimately led 11 of the bill’s co-sponsors to drop their public support, said Andrea Bazán-Manson, executive director of El Pueblo.

“We never had the chance to stop and give the right information about this bill,” she said at the luncheon.  “We have to work on how to get that positive message out.”

Since the firestorm, Bazán-Manson says, she believes the uproar is less about the particulars of the bill and more about the state of immigration.

“This whole discussion was about the changing face of North Carolina,” she said.  “We are at a turning point.  I hope the debate can move us to a more constructive place.”

Nine states have passed in-state tuition bills since 2001, said Josh Bernstein, federal policy director for the National Immigration Law Center in Washington, D.C., and a speaker at the event.

Federal immigration legislation is also pending, he said, warning that even if the bill passes, states still will be responsible for deciding whether immigrant children will qualify for in-state tuition.

“I believe this bill will pass in the future,” Hunt said.  “We will not turn it loose until it does.”

NC Policy Watch will host monthly luncheons on a variety of topics of importance to the community, said Chris Fitzsimon, the group’s executive director.

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