BROWNSVILLE, TX - MAY 25: Undocumented Immigrants are led through the gate at a border control station after being deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents May 25, 2010 in Brownsville. The immigrants started the morning at an ICE processing center in suburban Chicago before boarding a charter flight to Harlingen, Texas where they were then bussed to Brownsville and finally walked to the Mexican border and released from custody. The U.S. deports over 350,000 immigrants a year for entering the country illegally, most are Mexican, and more than 90 percent are men. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The “DREAM Act” plan, defeated in Congress today, would have given benefits and rights to illegal aliens who want to go to school in the U.S., but the state of Virginia isn’t prepared to depend on what Washington decides – it has its own plan to address the situation: a ban on those students in public colleges and universities.

A leading GOP legislator in the Virginia House of Delegates is poised to introduce a bill which would prohibit illegal aliens from attending public colleges and universities in the commonwealth, and a constitutional scholar tells WND that U.S. Supreme Court case law may well ensure that the proposed law can be enforced.

Delegate Chris Peace, a Republican from the state’s 97th House district in suburban Richmond, in an interview with WND said he was “amazed” to learn when researching the bill that some of Virginia’s public universities, like Virginia Tech, did not have any policy regarding the admission of illegal aliens.

Others, like the prestigious University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson, told Peace they did not “knowingly” admit or enroll individuals who were illegally present in the U.S.

The result was Peace’s bill, House Bill 1465, which he says provides not just cost savings for the state, but also creates a uniform policy for state-supported institutions of higher education. Further, it ensures that bright youngsters from Virginia who have received perfect grades are not shut out of the admissions process because of issues of “space” at the public colleges, he said.

“Should this legislation pass, it is difficult to determine how much savings would accrue to the Commonwealth, since there is no current policy screening applicants,” Peace told WND. “But the public policy goal does not center on savings, per se; rather, it is one of principle. If all colleges and universities created policies sua sponte [Law Latin – for on their own initiative] then there would be no need for this legislation. To date, several have been unwilling to do so.”

Peace noted that higher education is a “privilege,” not a “right,” and that illegal aliens would still be able to attend private colleges in Virginia.

Straight ‘A’s’ required

Schools like the College of William & Mary, University of Virginia – like University of Maryland and UCLA, considered “public Ivies” – report that the average grade point average of incoming freshman is 4.0 on 4.0 scale – straight A’s.

“The bottom line is that there’s wide-spread sentiment that public benefit should not be going to those who are here illegally,” said Peace. “The opponents of this legislation say it is targeting one group of people, or establishing preferences. But we’re not trying to be mean-spirited here. Instead, those who support this legislation are simply trying to open the doors to Virginians.”

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina already ban illegal immigrants from some or all public colleges. But the report said 10 other states, including Florida, New York and Texas, give them permission to pay only in-state tuition under many circumstances.

The Chronicle report documented the decision from the California Supreme Court just a few weeks ago that affirmed a law allowing some illegals to pay in-state tuition. Justice Ming Chin concluded that providing that special benefit does not violate federal immigration law.

The case might be advanced to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Peace noted that his plan is timely “in light of the proposed amnesty-lite, DREAM Act.”

A leading constitutional law expert, Professor Ronald D. Rotunda, at Chapman University School of Law, Orange, Calif., told WND that the U.S. Supreme Court said it was illegal for states to discriminate against legal aliens in “Toll v. Moreno” (1982). The court, what is more, has not allowed states to discriminate against minor illegal aliens attending grades K-12 in “Plyler v. Doe” (1982).

“But Plyler emphasized that these children are minors, not 18 or over, and have little control over what their parents do,” Rotunda tells WND. “The court has suggested that states can deny free public education to illegal aliens who want to attend state universities because these aliens are not children and university education is not like K-12.”

Immigration attorney Michael Wildes said he does not think the legislation will pass because “a blanket policy of verifying every student’s immigration status would be onerous and time-consuming.”

Further, he said, it would be “wildly discriminatory” to verify the immigration status of individuals based on “presumptions about students’ ethnic identities, or the sound of someone’s last name.”

But Peace waived off those concerns.

“Many will try to use emotional arguments for those children brought here without consent by their parents, who access the K-12 system, but then would be ineligible for the public college experience,” Peace said.

Peace noted that there is widespread support for the legislation in the House of Delegates, where a different, earlier version of the measure passed overwhelmingly with bi-partisan support, 73-26, in 2008, but failed to get out of committee in the Democrat-dominated Senate. Now the GOP has increased its strength in the Virginia Senate, and elected a Republican governor in 2009.

Peace pre-filed the bill on December 6, and it will be formally offered to the legislature on Jan. 12, 2011.

The bill allows the board of visitors or board of governors of every public college in Virginia to establish rules and regulations, and prohibit “an alien who is unlawfully present in the U.S.” from being admitted to “any public institution of higher education in Virginia.”

Wilde says he’d rather have Washington making rules for the states.

“It’s important to keep in mind that immigration law is within federal jurisdiction and it is not the state’s place to enforce federal law,” Wildes says. “The proper forum is Washington, D.C.”

The DREAM Act stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, and would offer permanent legal status to illegal aliens up to age 35 who arrived in the United States before age 16, provided they complete two years of college or two years of U.S. military service. It also would give illegal aliens attending community colleges or public universities in-state tuition.


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