Arlington County has changed its policy against admitting the children of illegal aliens to county-sponsored day-care programs, apparently heading off an anticipated lawsuit from representatives of the county's Hispanic community.

"I don't care how they did it, or how quietly they did it," said Gisela B. Huberman, a Washington attorney who said she was planning a lawsuit challenging the policy for the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I think it's a huge victory without having to go to court. It opens the doors to the kids of illegal aliens."

"I think it's a sensible decision," County Board Chairman John G. Milliken said yesterday.

"I think we all recognize that the children are the real concern."

Leaders in the Hispanic community had complained that the county's policy, unique in the metropolitan area, was hurting the children because some were improperly cared for while their parents, unable to pay for private day-care programs, were at work.

Because those parents are not supposed to be in the country working, the county had said their children, many of whom were born here and hold U.S. citizenship, would be ineligible for its subsidized day-care program.

Lynda Eubank, the social services chief in the county's Department of Human Services, which administers the county program, said yesterday that the county's official position has not changed.

What has been altered, she said, is the process by which social workers check to determine if an applicant is a legal resident. Previously, foreign-born applicants had to show "green cards" from the Immigration and Naturalization Service proving they were legal residents.

Now, Eubank said, social workers will ask only to see social security cards. Some members of the county's Hispanic community said that decision will effectively open the day-care programs to the children of illegal aliens because so many of their parents are able to obtain counterfeit cards.

"I suppose I would see this as a change of policy if I were a person who wasn't eligible before and became eligible," Eubank said, adding that her agency does not expect a large influx of applicants or any substantial impact on the budget.

Other representatives of the Hispanic community yesterday called the county's decision only a partial victory. Orlando Mayorga of the Spanish-Speaking Committee of Virginia, and Lucia Vasquez of El Rescate Nova, a legal aid service, said the decision did not go far enough and expressed skepticism that false social security cards are easily obtainable.