Nation's Largest Community College System Accused of Discrimination

Silverio Garcia, who filed a complaint against the Maricopa Community Colleges, speaks at a press conference Thursday, April 12, in Phoenix.
Nick Blumberg
By Nick Blumberg
April 12, 2012

PHOENIX -- The U.S. Department of Education is investigating the Maricopa Community College District for discriminating against minority students. If the allegations are true, the district could be violating the federal Civil Rights Act.

A Department of Education spokesperson says its Office for Civil Rights is investigating the nation’s largest community college district for failing to provide information, services, and access to people with limited English proficiency. The Education Department is also investigating claims of discrimination against high school students based on their family’s actual or perceived immigration status.

Silverio Garcia, the executive director of the Phoenix nonprofit Civil Rights Center, filed a complaint with the Education Department last year. He says the college district has created an environment hostile to undocumented immigrants.

Photo by Nick Blumberg
Silverio Garcia, executive director of the Phoenix-based Civil Rights Center.

"We need to improve that atmosphere, because this is a learning institution," Garcia said. "How can you learn when there’s a lot of tension and a lot of disparity in how people are being treated?"

In a statement Wednesday, the Community College District said it will comply fully with the Education Department’s request for information. A spokesman declined an offer to speak on tape.

Garcia says he hopes the District becomes more inclusive.

"If you can let the community -- no matter what ethnicity, Italian, German, Chinese -- if you can open it up, in other words, they’re comfortable, they understand what’s going on, you’re on your way," Garcia said.

Garcia also claims the district tracks undocumented students and reports them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But in a letter to Garcia, the Department of Education says that issue is beyond its jurisdiction.

Editor's Note: KJZZ, one of the stations involved in Fronteras: The Changing America Desk, is licensed to the Maricopa Community College District.