Standing up for children and rejecting the politics of fear.

By: - July 14, 2005 7:10 am

More than 200 people gathered in Raleigh Wednesday to learn more about the proposal to give in-state tuition to the children of undocumented workers in North Carolina, an idea that state lawmakers backed away from this earlier year after a torrent of demagoguery and misleading rhetoric fueled by right-wing talk radio.

Nine states currently allow the children to pay in-state tuition. The issue has become a flashpoint for anti-immigration sentiment across the country. Opponents of the plan have mischaracterized it as a way to encourage illegal immigration by allowing undocumented students to attend college for free.  A federal court recently threw out a legal challenge to a similar law in Kansas.

Former Governor Jim Hunt has been an outspoken supporter of the bill since it was introduced and told the crowd Wednesday that it will eventually pass in North Carolina because it is the right thing to do for the children involved and for the state’s economy.

Hunt pointed out that the children of undocumented workers did not choose to come to North Carolina, they were brought here by their parents and are now North Carolina’s children.

El Pueblo Director Andrea Bazan-Manson recounted what happened earlier this year when the legislation was introduced. Advocates and supportive legislators were harassed and threatened and eleven of the bill’s original co-sponsors withdrew their name.

But the public wants to help the children.  A recent Elon University Poll found that the majority of people in North Carolina support the legislation.  To qualify for in-state tuition, students must have attended a North Carolina high school for four years and must certify that they are in the process of seeking legal citizenship.

Many folks in the audience Wednesday wondered what they could do to help pass the proposal in the next legislative session. The best answer may have come from the response to the event by one of the leaders of the hysterical anti-immigration forces who told a reporter that legislators will remember what happened to folks who supported the bill this year and that many of the 26 lawmakers who remained as co-sponsors won’t be in the legislature next session. In other words, the threats and intimidation will continue.

That’s a pretty direct challenge and one that was largely left unsaid at Wednesday’s event, the choice between the politics of fear and the welfare of children who are part of our community.

The anti-immigration forces are loud and well-organized but small in numbers and count on the complacency of the vast majority of the people in the state as part of their strategy. The vocal and hateful minority will rule and children will continue to suffer only as long as the rest of us are silent and allow it. 

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066