Georgia's university system just voted this week to ban undocumented students from enrolling in five of the most prestigious state colleges.
In the past two years, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and Oklahoma have refused in-state tuition benefits to students who entered the USA illegally with their parents but grew up and went to school in the state. That represents a reversal from earlier this decade, when 10 states passed laws allowing in-state rates for such students.
This summer, South Carolina became the first state to bar undocumented students from all public colleges and universities.
North Carolina's community colleges in May ordered its 58 campuses to stop enrolling undocumented students after the state attorney general said admitting them may violate federal law.
There are two debates going on here: whether students who’ve lived in the state for a significant portion of their lives, but don’t have citizenship status, should qualify for in-state tuition—and, more radically, whether they should be permitted to enroll in state schools at all.
Georgia’s decision is also part of a larger push that’s been gaining momentum over the past year to block undocumented students from the educational system on all levels.
A number of public elementary and high schools have been taking steps to gather information on students’ citizenship status and to discourage undocumented students from attending. One Iowa gubernatorial candidate has even been campaigning on the idea of overturning Plyler vs. Doe, the Supreme Court decision that established the right to K-12 education for all children regardless of immigration status.
Unfortunately, these critics seem to be missing the point that education is a cornerstone of integration and positive citizenship.
These kids are here now, regardless of what papers their parents have, and giving them the chance to get an American education is both the most moral and the most cost-efficient way to address the situation.
Let’s take the German education system as a cautionary tale. Germany’s been in denial about its huge influx of immigrants until recently, despite admitting a steady flow of immigrant workers since the 1950s, and the country's multicultural growing pains are coming to a head after years of an education system that tends to exclude minorities from college-track schooling.
In the German education system, you have to take a test arond age 10 that determines whether you track towards vocational, professional, or college education—and if students have recently immigrated and their German isn't strong, or their parents need them to join the workforce sooner to help the family out, they're probably headed for the vocational track.
Der Spiegel raised this point when the 2006 PISA study results revealed a huge achievement gap between German students and those with a "migration background."
Specific criticism was levelled at the German and Austrian school systems for their practice of separating students by achievement at the age of 10. In Germany, this means that high-achieving students are placed in university track schools after the fourth grade and lower achieving students are essentially blocked from ever attending university. Many of the third-tier schools in Germany's three-level system become collection points for under-achievers, problem students and foreign students. Poor conditions at such schools have recently been splashed across the headlines in German papers.
It seems, four years down the road, that occupational segregation hasn’t exactly built social harmony, either.
Let me break that down another way:
Anti-immigrant sentiment today -> banning kids from education system -> professional segregation -> less integration -> pundits and politicians blame immigrants for not integrating -> rise in xenophobia -> less security and social stability for everyone on the whole.
Does any of that sound like a good idea?