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Eligibility Tightens as Maryland's Dream Act Moves Forward

2011-03-14

Potomac Patch

Undocumented Maryland high school students are one step closer to receiving in-state college tuition rates.

Legislation that would permit undocumented high school graduates to pay in-state college tuition advanced as Democratic state senators approved a final bill language, including stricter eligibility requirements. The bill is now set for a full and final Senate vote Monday, Mar. 14. Under the Senate’s amended bill SB167, the student would be required to graduate from a Maryland high school, attend a community college within the high school’s jurisdiction and prove that taxes were paid by the student, parent or legal guardian three years before entering college.

The bill would also require undocumented students to complete an associate’s degree, or 60 credits, from a community college before they can qualify for in-state tuition at a four-year Maryland university, sign an affidavit stating they will apply for legal residency when they are eligible, and show proof of paid state income taxes while attending community college.

Sen. Jamie Raskin (D- 20) who represents Silver Spring and Takoma Park, voted in favor of the legislation.

“The Supreme Court held in 1982 that the states have a constitutional obligation to provide undocumented immigrant children with an equal public education,” Raskin said.

If the Senate bill passes Monday it’s next step would be through the House chamber. Del. Sheila Hixson (D-20), who also represents Silver Spring and Takoma Park, is a lead sponsor on the House companion bill. 

Opponents of the legislation think the eligibility requirements of the bill are not realistic and the bill is just another step towards amnesty. Brad Botwin the founder of Help Save Maryland, an anti-illegal alien advocacy group doesn’t agree with this plan. For him it’s more about the principle of the law.

“There’s no enforcement mechanism in this bill. Trying to apply for citizenship after you broke the law is nearly an impossible task. Illegal aliens are not supposed to be working - that’s already against the law. Once the kids’ graduate, they cannot get a job, cannot vote and cannot get a driver’s license,” Brown said.

Montgomery College is currently being sued by three county residents for extending in-state tuition fees to county high school graduates regardless of their immigration status.  The group representing the residents, Judicial Watch, said the college is violating federal law and the Montgomery County education code. While federal law permits undocumented children to receive an elementary and high school education, federal immigration law prohibits “undocumented immigrants from obtaining a postsecondary education benefit that U.S. citizens cannot obtain,” according to the Dept. of Legislative Services.  

Rewarding illegal aliens for criminal behavior by subsidizing college tuition is not reasonable, said Botwin. Undocumented students can already attend college, they just have to pay out of state rates which is very fair, he added.

“I saved for my two kids to make sure they got their education. They both graduated from out-of-state colleges. Now they want me to subsidize their kids to go to college,” asked Botwin.

 Legislative Services estimated state aid to community college would increase by $800,000 in Fiscal Year 2014 and $3.5 million in FY2016, due to anticipated student enrollment growth, if the bill becomes law. The House Education Subcommittee will next take up the legislation, but a date has not been set, said an aide to Delegate Hixson.

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