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Community colleges can admit illegal immigrants

Community College System President Scott Ralls said the colleges would continue to bar immigrants until officials could review information from state and federal officials.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Two months after recommending that North Carolina community colleges deny admission to illegal immigrants, the state Attorney General's Office has reversed that stance.

The switch comes after U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials told state officials that federal laws don't prohibit illegal immigrants from attending college.

Community College System officials decided in May to stop allowing illegal immigrants to enroll in degree programs after the Attorney General's Office issued an advisory opinion recommending that community colleges tighten their admissions standards to be more in line with federal laws.

J.B. Kelly, general counsel for the Attorney General's Office, sent a letter Thursday to Community College System officials saying it was up to them to develop a policy on illegal immigrant students.

"Homeland Security does not consider admission of undocumented aliens to post-secondary educational institutions to be prohibited by federal law," Kelly wrote.

Community College System President Scott Ralls said in a statement Friday that the 58 colleges in the system would continue to bar illegal immigrants until the state board overseeing the system could discuss possible revisions to the policy.

“This is an important issue for our colleges and our students, and given that authority, our state board needs the opportunity to review and discuss these findings with the care and thoroughness they deserve," Ralls said.

The system last fall began admitting any illegal immigrant who was at least 18 years old and a high school graduate.

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.