He has sent a request to lawyers for the county and CPCC asking how they legally justify spending $41 million of county money (for operational and construction budgets) at a college that expects to admit illegal immigrants once a new policy is implemented.
This is kind of complicated. So stick with me.
Last month, the State Board of Community Colleges approved a new policy that will allow illegal immigrants to attend any of North Carolina's 58 community colleges, provided they graduate from a U.S. high school, pay the higher out-of-state tuition, and do not displace legal residents from classes.
James cites a federal statute that prohibits illegal immigrants from being eligible "for any State or local public benefit." The statute was the basis of an attorney general recommendation in May 2008 to stop enrolling illegal immigrants, which the community college system did. The attorney general’s office later reversed its opinion.
James argues the state gets around the “public benefits” liability question because illegal immigrants will be required to pay ‘out-of-state’ tuition, which exceeds the cost to the state and therefore is not a subsidy.
But, James says, unlike the state, the county doesn’t require repayment via tuition. He says unless CPCC charges illegal immigrants for that subsidy the county would be breaking the law.
“The county receives nothing from students, so anything we give to CPCC to subsidize ‘post-secondary education’ that benefits illegals is illegal,” he said.
In response to James concerns, Q. Shanté Martin, general counsel for N.C. Community College System responded in emails that, after further reviewing the laws, the Department of Homeland Security and the Attorney General found ‘that admitting illegal immigrants into public postsecondary institutions is not a violation of federal law.’
The attorney added:
"For a legal analysis specifically addressing any potential legal liability local counties may incur as a result of providing funding to colleges that admit illegal immigrants, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners may want to seek a legal analysis from the Department of Homeland Security since the federal government is responsible for providing an authoritative interpretation of federal law."
James said he does not want to cut support to CPCC, but wants the school to track undocumented students and require them to pay a fee to reimburse CPCC and the county for the local subsidy.
The decision to admit undocumented students is not expected to cause an enrollment rush. Before last year, when many campuses admitted students regardless of immigration status, about 110 of the state’s 800,000-plus community college students were in the country illegally. CPCC says it had 19 undocumented students. Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory had fewer than five. Rowan-Cabarrus Community College had one.