Attorney General Roy Cooper has reversed his stance on the right of undocumented students to attend our state's Community Colleges.
AG now says college OK for illegals
BY KRISTIN COLLINS, Staff Writer
RALEIGH - The state Attorney General's Office says it's legal for the N.C. Community College System to admit illegal immigrants.
That advice, given to the colleges Thursday and made public today, represents a reversal for the office of Attorney General Roy Cooper, which advised the colleges in May to bar illegal immigrants from degree programs. The colleges took that advice and issued a new policy prohibiting illegal immigrants from enrolling, even at out-of-state tuition rates. Cooper's office said at the time that post-secondary education might qualify as a public benefit to which illegal immigrants are not entitled under federal law.
But on Monday, Cooper's office got a letter from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in response to a request for clarification of the law. The letter, from former Mecklenburg County Sheriff Jim Pendergraph, who now works for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that admission to colleges is not considered a public benefit under federal law.
Federal officials made the same statement to the News & Observer in May, but officials with the community colleges and the Attorney General's Office said they wanted to wait for a formal letter.
J.B. Kelly, general counsel, advised the colleges in a letter Thursday that it is up to them to decide whether to admit illegal immigrants.
Community College System President Scott Ralls was not immediately available for comment on whether he would lift the ban on illegal immigrants.
This is great news for the students that I work with. I'm very happy. And I think I owe our leadership in the General Assembly an apology of sorts...
While advocating for undocumented students, I had House and Senate leaders tell me they agreed that the kids should be able to go to school. But they also didn't want to have anything to do with this issue during the short session.
When the AG ruled that undocumented students shouldn't be able to go, it was a week after the primary and just a few weeks before the short session began. It thought that smelled like the GA leadership had leaned on Cooper and Scott Ralls to deal with the issue so they didn't have to. The timing of this new ruling really seems to confirm that, since it comes just a week after the short session ended.
Still, at this point I think they may have played it well. Students who want to enroll will presumably be able to for the fall, and presumably this only hurt students who would have enrolled for the summer session. General Assembly legislators didn't have to take up an admittedly thorny issue during an election year.
Of course, the debate about this is far from over. We'll see a predictable right-wing backlash. It will certainly be an issue in the election. And we'll have to continue to make the case that education should be a universal human right.
I'll fight on as needed, but I'm heading off to vacation with a smile on my face and sense of gratitude to whoever pulled the strings on this one...