Corey G. Johnson / Fayetteville Observer, NC | August 12, 2008

The state community college system will discuss at its monthly meetings this week whether to allow illegal immigrants into degree programs.

The decision to revisit the contentious issue comes after federal Homeland Security officials told the state Attorney General’s Office in July that no federal law bars illegal immigrants from pursuing degrees. The discussions will be held during the Thursday and Friday sessions of the community colleges’ board in Raleigh, spokeswoman Audrey Bailey said.

Tony Asion, director of the Raleigh-based Hispanic advocacy group El Pueblo, expressed excitement over the decision to reopen discussion on the issue.

“This is good for everyone in the state,” Asion said. “Not just Hispanics.”

Community college officials had been waiting since May for federal guidance. In May, system President Scott Rauls, acting on a state attorney’s office legal assessment, barred local colleges from accepting illegal 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 illegal immigrants should be admitted. The advice spurred system officials to open degree programs to illegal immigrants. That call has caused Sullivan and his family to face intense scrutiny and even death threats, he said.

Still, Sullivan said he doesn’t regret the decision, which he said was based on “good, solid legal reasoning.”

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