The Mecklenburg County attorney will not investigate whether the county is vulnerable to a lawsuit for subsidizing the education of illegal immigrants at Central Piedmont Community College unless directed by the full board of commissioners, County Manager Harry Jones said today.
That is not likely to happen.
And in response to a request from Commissioner Bill James, commission Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts stated in an e-mail that she did not plan to seek an opinion from the Department of Homeland Security on this issue.
“In addition, since out of state tuition is greater than the per pupil cost of educating students at CPCC, those few undocumented immigrants who might be able to afford it will be subsidizing the education of other students,” she wrote.
We reported last week that James wants illegal immigrants to pay an additional county fee to attend CPCC. He said he’s concerned the county may otherwise be vulnerable to lawsuit based on a federal statute that prohibits illegal immigrants from being eligible "for any State or local public benefit."
The county gave CPCC $41 million for operational and construction budgets. 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. The new policy won't take effect until next academic year, at the soonest, pending administrative review.
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.
James accused Roberts of “taking an ostrich approach of ‘don’t ask as we don’t want to know,’” but that he did not plan to force the issue by putting it on the commission agenda.
“I think this is not the best approach because it will create animosity and bring out folks on both sides, something that can’t accomplish much except ratchet up tension on an issue that already has way too much,” James wrote in an email.