Virginia Official's Memo Saying Public Colleges Should Not Admit Illegal
Immigrants Draws Angry Reaction
The Chronicle of Higher Education, Tuesday, November 19, 2002
By JONATHAN MARGULIES
A group representing Latinos and new immigrants is furious about a memo from
Virginia's attorney general that says illegal immigrants should be denied entry
to the state's public colleges. The directive also says that college officials
should notify federal authorities about any such students who are already known
to be on their campuses.
During a news conference in Arlington, Va., last week, officials from the
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund lashed out at Virginia's
attorney general, Jerry W. Kilgore, who sent the memo to college officials last
September. In it, Mr. Kilgore cited the need to preserve spaces in public
colleges for students who are legal residents -- and are taxpayers.
The memo, asserted Mr. Kilgore's spokesman, Tim Murtaugh, was intended only to
provide a legal interpretation to those colleges unsure of how to classify their
population of students who may be in the country illegally. And it does not
carry with it any binding force of law.
"We received a variety of inquiries from public colleges and universities in the
state asking us whether illegal immigrants who are enrolled in Virginia's
schools should be charged in-state or out-of-state tuition," said Mr. Murtaugh.
deal with each inquiry on its own, we just issued one broader statement. ...
Illegal immigrants should not be enrolled in public colleges and universities at
Representatives of the immigrants' rights group say Mr. Kilgore's interpretation
writes off thousands of immigrants who are currently attending the nation's
public schools and looking forward to going to college. The group also says that
the directive would most seriously penalize students who have already
established lives in the United States but lack formal immigration status --
rather than those looking to take advantage of state-funded higher education --
and that it is not justified by any current state or federal law.
"We believe that that recommendation is ... just bad policy and it can result in
a process that can lead to serious human and legal rights violations," said
Tisha Tallman, regional counsel for the immigrants' rights group. "It also won't
be in the colleges' best interests to preclude the best and the brightest from
attending their schools."
Ms. Tallman said her group first learned of the attorney general's message a few
weeks ago, when it was alerted by a school in Northern Virginia. She also warned
that forcing professors to report on students who may or may not lack the
proper documentation to study in the country would fundamentally undermine the
trust that is so essential between student and teacher. Mr. Kilgore's memo, she
said, suggested that faculty members take the lead in identifying such
Despite the criticism, Mr. Murtaugh says that the memo reflected the state's
obligation to protect the rights of taxpayers. Immigrants seeking higher
education in the United States, he added, would be well served by going through
formal channels in their quest for citizenship.
"This country is made of generations of immigrants," Mr. Murtaugh said. "But to
afford someone else the opportunity to take advantage of the taxpayers' support
is a slap in the face to those who have entered this country and gone through
the proper processes."
The question of how to categorize illegal immigrants on college campuses is not
unique to Virginia. Several states have
adopted policies contrary to that suggested by Mr. Kilgore. California, New
York, and Texas have all allowed undocumented aliens access to in-state tuition
rates, a practice that the Virginia memo explicitly condemns.