Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina's community colleges can decide whether they want to enroll illegal immigrants, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said Friday.
The state Attorney General's Office said this week that the 58 campuses in the North Carolina Community College System should tighten up admissions standards for illegal immigrants and more closely follow federal law.
The system last fall began admitting any illegal immigrant who was at least 18 years old and a high school graduate. Gov. Mike Easley said Thursday that he supported that policy, noting federal law doesn't clearly outline when illegal immigrants can attend community college.
Richard Rocha, a spokesman for ICE, said Friday that illegal immigrants can apply to any school, but they run the risk of deportation if they are caught in the country.
"It is left for the school to decide whether or not to enroll out-of-status or undocumented non-immigrants," Rocha said in a statement. "The Department of Homeland Security does not require any school to determine a student’s (immigration) status."
Community college officials had been expected to decide Friday how to proceed, but said they needed more time to formulate a plan.
Of the nearly 300,000 curriculum students in community colleges statewide, 112 are illegal immigrants, according to the latest state figures. Twenty-seven of the 200,000 students in the University of North Carolina system are illegal immigrants.
All of the illegal immigrants pay out-of-state tuition at both UNC and community college campuses.