North Carolina Community Colleges Urged To Restrict Undocumented Student Access

Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina’s community colleges should drop a lenient admissions policy for undocumented immigrants and return to more restrictive rules that follow federal law more closely, the state Attorney General’s Office said.

The 58-college system now admits undocumented immigrants who are 18 years old and high school graduates — and others allowed under federal guidelines — to all campuses under a policy it adopted in 2007. A spokeswoman for the nation’s third-largest community college system said officials would take the contents of the letter, dated Tuesday and released Wednesday, under advisement.

The stricter guidelines “would more likely withstand judicial scrutiny,” said JB Kelly, general counsel for the Attorney General’s Office.

The state should revert to that policy because the Department of Homeland Security hasn’t assessed the more lenient policy, he said. Leaving the door open for lawmakers to act, Kelly said the state would need to rely on federal advice unless the Legislature passed a law on admission standards.

Kelly did not immediately return phone calls and an e-mail seeking comment.

In November 2007, the community colleges’ attorney decided that the schools must admit undocumented immigrants as long as they were 18 years old and high school graduates. That ruling updated a 2004 rule that left the decision up to individual campuses.

Martin Lancaster, who was system president at the time of the 2007 ruling, said Wednesday that the decision disappointed him.

“I believe that every North Carolinian, everyone residing in our state who will ultimately become a part of our work force, should be educated,” said Lancaster, who retired last year as system president.

Community college system President Scott Ralls was unavailable for comment because of a family emergency, spokeswoman Audrey Kates Bailey said. She said the system “is taking it under advisement and will respond accordingly.” Kelly emphasized that the advisory letter is not an official opinion from the Attorney General’s Office.

Kelly recommended returning to a policy written in December 2001 that bars undocumented immigrants from taking college-level courses unless they meet standards outlined in federal laws

That 2001 decision said undocumented immigrants who are high school students can take college-level courses, and undocumented immigrants of any age can enroll in non-college level courses or programs, such as English as a second language.

The decision said both positions appeared to correspond with federal law. Undocumented immigrants of any age who meet certain federal standards, such having been subjected to “extreme cruelty,” can also take college-level courses, the decision said.

Officials with El Pueblo in Raleigh and Student Action with Farmworkers in Durham did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

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