For the 112 undocumented immigrants attending a North Carolina community college, Tuesday was a dark day.

That’s when Community College System President R. Scott Ralls caved to N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, whose office had advised the state’s 58 community colleges to bar undocumented immigrants from enrolling in degree programs.

Congratulations, North Carolina. We can now be known as the punishers. We’re ballsy, swaggering toughs and hussies ready to kick the asses of people trying to improve themselves. Let’s all go out and slam a beer can against our foreheads.

In a move that can be construed only as punitive, Cooper ignored the opinion of federal immigration officials, who have stated that North Carolina colleges can admit undocumented immigrants if they choose.

Let’s be clear: These immigrants aren’t in school on a free ride. They already pay out-of-state tuition, which can total upward of five times as much as the in-state rate. These students, many of whom had no choice but to come here illegally with their parents, are bucking a false and cruel stereotypethat immigrants arrive on U.S. soil to commit crimes, drive drunk and drain social services of every last dollar. They’re studying so they can work, feed their families, pay taxes and contribute to society.

The AG office’s advisory letter allows colleges to enroll undocumented immigrants in GED, continuing education and English as a Second Language courses. While that may sound charitable, it also limits the ambitions of those who want to learn more, to pursue a profession, to become well-rounded, informed individuals. Translation: Get educated, but not too educated. After all, who will pick our tomatoes, prune our bushes and wash dishes 60 hours a week for less than minimum wage?

Instead of pursuing degree-seeking undocumented immigrants, Cooper could ferociously sic his Consumer Protection Division on businesses that prey on undocumented immigrants as customers, or more effectively argue the state’s protracted case against behemoth tomato grower, Ag-Mart, whose use of pesticides may have caused illness and birth defects in migrant workers and their children.

Cooper is running for re-election against Republican Bob Crumley in November. It’s unclear if Cooper’s disdain for undocumented immigrants is a politically motivated, but as a result of his decision, he’ll likely get the hate vote. And at such a price: Kicked out of school, these students will not necessarily toss up their hands and return to their native countries. Instead, they will likely become part of our underground economy. They will join the ranks of second-class citizens, who can be exploited and intimidated with impunity. And for what higher purpose? To ostensibly uphold immigration law? Leave it to the feds, Roy.