A federal judge in Alexandria expressed doubts last week about allowing five teenagers to anonymously sue Virginia colleges over admissions policies regarding illegal immigrants.
A coalition of immigration-rights groups filed the suit last week in U.S. District Court on behalf of the anonymous plaintiffs, claiming that seven public colleges in Virginia are improperly denying admission to illegal aliens.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III required the plaintiffs to demonstrate why they should be permitted to proceed anonymously, saying that plaintiffs are typically required to reveal their identity, barring extraordinary circumstances.
Judge Ellis made no ruling on the issue during a hearing Friday, and he ordered both sides to meet to see if they could find a way to proceed in the case in a mutually agreeable manner.
Judge Ellis, however, was skeptical of many of the rationales for anonymity offered by Tisha Tallman, lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).
Ms. Tallman said the plaintiffs fear deportation if their names become public, but Judge Ellis questioned whether someone should receive the privilege of bringing an anonymous lawsuit for the mere reason that they are breaking a federal law.
Judge Ellis also rejected the argument that the plaintiffs fear physical intimidation if they come forward.
“I don’t have a clear picture of people throwing rocks at the homes of the plaintiffs because of this lawsuit,” Judge Ellis said, adding that while anti-immigrant sentiment was prevalent a century ago, “Now we have fiestas, celebrations of different cultures.”
Alison Landry, an attorney with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, said the colleges need to know the identity of at least one defendant to verify whether the claims are true. She said several of the universities being sued allow illegal aliens to enroll, despite the lawsuit’s claims.
“There is no privacy interest in being unlawful,” Miss Landry argued. “How will I know if George Mason or James Madison actually denied entry to these individuals if I don’t know who they are?”
A memo issued last year by state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore prompted the lawsuit. In the memo, Mr. Kilgore urged public universities to deny admission to illegal immigrants and to report suspicious applicants to federal immigration authorities.
The lawsuit argues that the attorney general’s memo and policy recommendations usurp the role of federal immigration authorities as delegated by Congress.
Friday’s hearing did not directly address the merits of the lawsuit, but Judge Ellis on two occasions indicated that the issue seems to be political rather than legal.