One of the more interesting moments in Wednesday evening’s Higher Education Works Foundation  forum in Charlotte was a question from a student leader in the audience about providing in-state tuition for students who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Last month President Donald Trump announced an end  to the program, which allows children brought to the United States without documentation to remain and work in the country. Some of the more than 800,000 children brought to the U.S. this way will be eligible for deportation beginning in March.
In a September press conference, Trump characterized DACA as an unfair system that victimizes millions of Americans and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said it “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs.”
The president has urged Congress for a legislative solution but with Republicans split between new legislation that accomplished much of what DACA did and hard line conservatives deriding that as “amnesty,” a way forward is anything but clear .
Asked for their views on DACA and the making it easier for DACA-qualified students to attend North Carolina universities, UNC System President Margaret Spellings and N.C. House Leader Moore – both Republicans – seemed to come down on the side of DACA protections.
Spellings said she has been outspoken on the issue since her time as Secretary of Education in the George W. Bush administration.
“I come from a state where in-state tuition is provided to so-called ‘Dreamers,” Spellings said. “And so I’m part of a coalition that is urging the congress as Paul Ryan and others are doing to find ways to take action within this six month period so that we can settle this uncertainty and really chart a way forward.”
“In my heart I just I have a real belief in DACA students,” Spellings said. “I’ve met many of them. And after we’ve invested in them in our K-12 system, many of them high flyers pursuing higher education, I think it’s very smart of us to continue to invest in higher education.”
Moore was more circumspect, but ended his answer with a word of support for the student DACA activist asking the question.
“What I would say from the legislative standpoint in state government we’re really susceptible to what the feds do on this,” Moore said. “And frankly I wish the federal government would fix this one way or another. It’s very frustrating for us as state policy makers cause we have to comply with what federal laws are.”
“Certainly my heart is with you,” Moore told the student.