Local News

Community colleges to bar immigrants without papers

Posted May 13, 2008 11:47 a.m. EDT
Updated May 14, 2008 12:02 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina's 58 community colleges will no longer allow illegal immigrants to enroll in degree programs, officials said Tuesday.

The move follows an advisory letter, issued a week ago, in which the state Attorney General's Office recommended that community colleges tighten their admissions standards to be more in line with federal laws.

"We're trying our best to follow the law – a muddy law as it is – but we've looked to legal counsel each time in doing that," Community College System President Scott Ralls said.

The Attorney General's Office has agreed to ask federal officials to clarify rules regarding illegal  immigrants and college enrollment.

“Until we receive further clarification, we will no longer admit individuals classified as illegal or undocumented immigrants into curriculum degree programs,” Ralls said.

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 last week that he supported that policy, saying federal law doesn't clearly say when seemingly illegal immigrants can attend community college. No other state prevents illegal immigrants from attending college, he said, and doing so in North Carolina would create an underclass in the state.

"Legally, I think the attorney general's advice is flawed," Easley said. "Everybody wants to make sure that immigrants are learning English. If you cut off their ability to go to the Community College System, then how are they going to learn the language?"

A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also said last week that federal law didn't preclude colleges from admitting illegal immigrants.

Of the nearly 300,000 curriculum students in community colleges statewide, 112 are illegal, according to the latest state figures. Twenty-seven of the 200,000 students in the University of North Carolina system are apparently illegal.

All of the illegal immigrants pay out-of-state tuition at both UNC and community college campuses.

Community college officials said illegal immigrants who are already enrolled would be allowed to finish their studies and earn degrees. The decision also doesn't affect illegal immigrants in K-12 or GED programs.

"It's difficult for our entire system, not just me. I think the whiplash is very difficult for us. This is the fourth position we've held since 2001," Ralls said.