- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

RICHMOND — State lawmakers are debating legislation that would forbid illegal aliens from attending state-sponsored colleges, a measure that, if approved, would put Virginia at the forefront of immigration reform in the United States.

“This is the first time I’ve ever heard of a state doing anything like this,” said Lynda S. Zengerle, a lawyer who heads the Immigration practice in the International Group at the D.C.-based law firm of Steptoe and Johnson.

Delegate David B. Albo, the Fairfax County Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said the state has been forced to take strong measures against illegal aliens because seven of the September 11 hijackers possessed Virginia driver’s licenses.

“We were put in a situation where we had to do something,” Mr. Albo said. “We certainly are in the forefront of the problem.”

Mr. Albo said there are 200,000 illegal aliens in Virginia, and he wants to see strict reforms that will limit their access to any local and state benefits, including Medicaid.

Immigration experts said yesterday it is difficult to estimate the number of college-age illegal aliens who might be affected by the legislation, but said the number probably is low.

Delegate Thomas D. Gear, the chief sponsor of the bill, said he worries illegal aliens’ attending higher-education institutions hurts those who are here legally.

“We have enough students that are having a hard time — we only have so many spots,” the Hampton Republican said. “I wouldn’t want an illegal alien taking one of our spots.”

Ms. Zengerle, who represents corporations, immigrants and those seeking asylum, said the bill seems “overreaching in a dangerous way.” She said the bill punishes young immigrants who probably were brought as children into the United States illegally by their parents.

“The idea of forbidding them to enroll in school at all is Draconian and it’s going to have a very bad outcome in that you will create a whole level of undereducated class coming out the ranks,” she said. “The children didn’t enter the U.S. illegally — you are punishing the wrong constituency.”

Delegate Adam P. Ebbin voted against the bill in committee, saying the federal government, not the state, should enforce immigration policies.

“It’s a misdirected attempt to penalize capable Virginia high school students,” the Alexandria Democrat said. “We’re denying them the rights to better themselves … and this limits their options to being a day laborer, a cook or a gang member.”

Mr. Ebbin also said the legislation could hurt young adults who are in “limbo” with immigration officials because their paperwork is pending and their status still is identified as “undocumented.”

In 2002, the office of then-Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, a Republican, issued a letter to state colleges, suggesting they should not admit illegal aliens as a matter of policy, but that each school must make its own decision.

The House Education Committee on Monday voted 16-6 to approve Mr. Gear’s bill. The House is expected to debate the bill today. The bill could pass by the end of the week. It faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where a similar bill was rejected last year.

Last year, Delegate John S. “Jack” Reid, Henrico County Republican, authored a bill that would have required colleges to turn away aliens or expel those who mistakenly were enrolled. The bill passed the House on a 72-23 vote but was rejected in the Senate Education and Health Committee on a 12-2 vote.

Not all senators oppose such measures.

Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II said he supports the “very broad exclusion” of illegals.

“We should take away every government-funded incentive for people to come here illegally,” the Fairfax County Republican said.

Like other states, Virginia has grappled with allowing aliens to pay in-state tuition, but the law currently requires them to pay out-of-state tuition , which can be three to four times more than the tuition rate Virginia residents pay.

A federal judge ruled last spring that Virginia colleges are within their rights to deny admission to illegal aliens. In an opinion released last summer, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III wrote, however, that he would not issue a formal decision on whether illegal aliens can attend public colleges and did not address the tuition issue.

The judge also dismissed charges by a group of illegal aliens who said seven state colleges were violating the Constitution by refusing to enroll them. The judge, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Reagan in 1987, ruled that the illegal aliens who sued the colleges lacked legal standing, and that only a legal applicant could raise a claim.

California, Texas, New York and Utah allow illegal aliens to pay in-state tuition. No states bar illegals from attending state colleges.

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