North Carolina’s community college system said last week it would continue to bar illegal immigrants from enrolling until officials can review a federal opinion that could allow it to drop 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,” system president R. Scott Ralls said in a written statement Friday.
The policy will be reviewed at the board’s next meeting Aug. 15, said system spokeswoman Chancy Kapp.
The decision came shortly after the Attorney General’s Office released a letter it received from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that said “individual states must decide for themselves whether or not to admit illegal aliens into their public post-secondary institutions.”
In the absence of any state policy or legislation, schools must approve their own policy and use federal immigration status standards to identify illegal immigrants, the letter said.
The debate was triggered when the community college system decided to allow illegal immigrants into all of its 58 schools, loosening a policy that had left the decision to individual schools.
But in May, Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office said the policy could conflict with federal law, and the schools decided to bar illegal immigrants until federal officials clarified the law. Students enrolled in the 2006-2007 school year were allowed to continue their studies.
At the time, the decision to bar such students affected about 100 people. Although the system enrolls nearly 300,000 students seeking two-year degrees, the issue ignited strong reaction from policy supporters and opponents, and caught the attention of state political candidates in the middle of primary election races.
Debate in several other states has focused on whether illegal immigrants should be charged in-state tuition, but expert Jim Hermes said North Carolina wasn’t alone in its fight over about legal residency, not tuition.
“Other states have considered legislation to bar undocumented students from attending public institutions. None of those bills have passed,” said Hermes, senior legislative associate at the American Association of Community Colleges.
North Carolina was, however, different in that the ban was handled administratively, not with legislation, Hermes said.
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