- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2004

Five would-be college students who sued a group of Virginia universities over their refusal to enroll illegal aliens will not be permitted to pursue their suit anonymously, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

The ruling from U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III may make it difficult for the lawsuit to go forward at all. Attorneys for the students have said their clients fear deportation and harassment if their names are made public.

The lawsuit was filed in September against seven Virginia public colleges by an immigrant-rights coalition on behalf of five students, named only as John and Jane Does.

They say they have been denied admission to college in Virginia because of their immigration status and say that efforts by Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore to keep illegal aliens from enrolling are illegal because they usurp the federal government’s exclusive role in enforcing immigration policy.

Lawyers for the state say an anonymous suit is unfair because it makes it impossible to verify whether the plaintiffs’ charges are true. Several of the colleges named in the lawsuit, including Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University, have said publicly that illegal aliens are allowed to enroll in many circumstances.

Judge Ellis said anonymous lawsuits should only rarely be allowed to proceed, and he saw no reason to do so in this case.

“There is no sound reason to believe that disclosure of plaintiffs’ identities in this suit increases their chances of being deported,” Judge Ellis wrote, noting that the federal government is already aware of the would-be students’ illegal status.

The lawsuit indicates that many of the students were brought illegally to the United States by their parents and graduated from American high schools. In many instances, the families are applying for legal status.

Mr. Kilgore, who has recommended to Virginia colleges that they refuse to enroll illegal aliens, praised the ruling.

“Higher education is a valuable opportunity that Virginia offers. However, I continue to believe that it is not too much to ask that people obey the laws of our society before they attempt to take advantage of what our society has to offer,” Mr. Kilgore said.

Immigrant-rights advocates say children are frequently brought into the country by their parents and had no choice in their illegal status, and therefore should not be denied access to higher education.

Tisha Tallman, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund, which is helping represent the plaintiffs, said she will confer with her clients to determine how to proceed. She declined further comment.

A sixth plaintiff, a group called Equal Access Education, has not been barred from pursuing the lawsuit, but it is not clear if it will have standing to proceed unless it can demonstrate that its members have been directly harmed by the colleges’ policies.

The schools named in the lawsuit are the University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University, James Madison University and Northern Virginia Community College.

The state is seeking to have the case dismissed outright. A hearing on that request is scheduled for Jan. 16.

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