Arrest Warrants Dim College Hopes, Dreams

Sara conquered limited English and homesickness for her native Mexico to become an outstanding student at her Raleigh high school. A quiet 17-year-old with jet-black hair, she graduated in May with solid grades and dreams of attending UNC-Chapel Hill.

Yet while many of her classmates can hardly wait to start college, Sara thinks of her future with dread. As an illegal immigrant, she fears she’s more likely to find herself stuck behind the counter of a fast-food restaurant than studying at a university.

“I’ve worked hard to get good grades, and I haven’t been lazy,” said Sara, who like other students interviewed for this article didn’t want her full name used for fear of deportation. “To see that because of some papers my education is going to come to an end, it makes me sad. I’m a person who likes to learn.”

— “Immigration laws dim college hopes: Education elusive dream for some,” The News & Observer, June 14, 2004

Contributing Whiner

Rageman overcame an early life in a broken home and several successive adoptive families to post good grades in his Raleigh reform school. A passionate lad with dark locks, he graduated in May with hopes of following his girlfriend, Christy Pristina, to UNC-Wilmington. Pristina asked not to be interviewed or identified in this article.

Yet while his peers hang out in public places laughing and joking and preparing for their college careers, Rageman holes up at friends’ houses peering nervously out of basement windows. He doesn’t have time to think about college. He fears he’s more likely to be thrown in the poke.

“I worked hard in school,” Rageman said. “So what if I knocked over a few convenience stores graduation night?”

Rageman, who like other students interviewed for this article didn’t want his real name used, acknowledges he became “a little hyper” after drinking too much at a graduation party, and in his exuberance he may have cut a wide swath of havoc across a stretch of Interstate 40. His celebratory antics, however, were caught on numerous store video cameras, and Raleigh police quickly put out a warrant for his arrest. That document put a screeching halt to Rageman’s college hopes, because colleges won’t enroll students who’re afraid to show themselves publicly for fear of being arrested.

“It’s just not fair,” Rageman said. “To see that because of some paper my education is going to end, it just makes me so mad. If Christy talks to another guy because of this, oh my God, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

His dream of being a Women’s Studies major over, Rageman’s not alone in seeing hopes dashed by arrest warrants. His fellow graduates Rottweiler, Pimpslap, and Tagalong were also caught on camera and are also “wanted.” They were also here in the basement with Rageman.

Rottweiler had wanted to go to UNC-Charlotte, but now because of the state, he’s afraid to go out during the day. Pimpslap had his hopes set on Wake Technical Community College, but instead he’s hoping a lawyer will clear his name on a technicality. Tagalong hadn’t decided yet between UNCW, UNCC, or Wake Tech, but didn’t seem as concerned as the rest over the prospect of them all getting arrested.

While some people say lawbreakers shouldn’t expect a free ride in UNC on the backs of the state’s law-abiding taxpayers, others decry what they see is the state’s outdated concerns about criminals on campus. UNCW sociologist Mia Opia says that we should remember these kids are students first, potentially dangerous criminals second. It’s an approach that UNCW, from admissions on down to security, has tried to bear in mind, Opia said.

The problem goes deeper than colleges not enrolling “wanted” students (an “ironic term,” Opia said, saying she prefers to use “differently legal”). Outstanding warrants tend to prevent the differently legal from receiving government grants and loans, scholarships, even jobs. All the doors to higher education are effectively shut to them, Opia said.

This all would change if Congress passes the proposed Hopes and Dreams Act, which would remove the legal barriers keeping the differently legal from college. Critics of the legislation say it would reward illegal behavior, but supporters say “Nuh-uhhhh!”

Hank Wonk, of the Washington-based think tank Laws Schmaws Institute, said Rageman and others like him could be our future teachers and leaders. “This bill could rectify a serious justice in our society,” he said. “I mean, injustice.”