North Carolina community college leaders who will be meeting later this week plan to discuss whether to admit undocumented immigrants to degree programs after federal officials told the college system it was up to the state, a newspaper reported on Aug. 11.
Audrey Bailey, a community college spokeswoman, said the discussion will take place during a monthly board meeting Thursday and Friday, The Fayetteville Observer reported.
Officials are looking at a decision made in May to bar immigrants in the country illegally from degree programs. Officials said at the time they wanted to get guidance from federal immigration experts.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it was the state’s call and that no federal law banned immigrants without documentation from studying for degrees.
Tony Asion, director of the Raleigh-based advocacy group El Pueblo,
said the decision to reopen discussion would benefit everyone.
“This is good for everyone in the state, not just Hispanics,” said Asion,
According to the Observor, community college officials had been waiting for federal guidance since May, when system President Scott Rauls, acting on a state attorney’s office legal assessment, barred local colleges from accepting undocumented immigrants in degree programs until clarification from the federal level came.
On July 21, Homeland Security officials responded.
“Please note that admission to public post-secondary educational institutions is not one of the benefits regulated by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996,” wrote Jim Pendergraph, an official of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Therefore, the individual states must decide for themselves whether or not to admit illegal aliens into their public post-secondary institutions.”
The decision represents a vindication of sorts for FTCC lawyer David Sullivan who rendered legal advice in November that the students should be admitted, the newspaper said. The advice spurred system officials to open degree programs to those without documentation of legal status. That call has caused Sullivan and his family to face intense scrutiny and even death threats, he said.
Still, Sullivan told the Observer that he did not regret the decision, which he said was based on “good, solid legal reasoning.”
“It was ugly for a while. This is such a hot political issue,” Sullivan said. “But in the position I serve, I can’t make decisions on the politics of it. I have to base my work on whether it is legal or not.”
Larry Keen, president of Fayetteville Tech, said he is ready to comply with whatever decision the board makes.
“I’m looking forward to the state board taking this up and resolving it once and for all,” Keen said.
Officials said 112 of the 297,000 students seeking degrees in community colleges across the state are immigrants without proper U.S. documentation. None were at Fayetteville Tech as of May.
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