On November 6, Maryland’s ballot will ask voters whether they support a law passed last year that would give undocumented immigrants access to in-state college tuition if they meet certain requirements, including if they attended high school and if their parents paid state taxes.
Known as “Question 4,” the referendum will decide the fate of a law that resembles the federal DREAM Act, which has stalled multiple times in Congress since its introduction in 2001. Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley signed the Maryland bill into law in May 2011, but by July of that year, a Republican-backed effort had gathered enough signatures to stop the law from going into effect and put it to a referendum.
The law’s opponents say it would encourage more illegal immigration. “The issue of illegal aliens needs to be dealt with in a way that will not continue to attract more and more illegal aliens into the country,” says Neil Parrott, the organizer of the referendum petition drive. “The bill encourages illegal behavior and rewards those who have willfully broken US immigration laws.”
Supporters say the measure would be an economic boon to the state. A recent University of Maryland Baltimore County study found that the Dream Act would generate $66 million in economic activity for each incoming new class of undocumented students. “It’s a wise financial investment for our state–young people who are able to further their education thanks to the Maryland DREAM Act will earn more, pay more in taxes, and grow our economy,” explains Kristin Ford, communications for Educating Maryland Kids, a coalition of faith-based, labor union, education, civil rights, and community groups backing the Dream Act. “We can send a signal to other states considering similar legislation, as well as to Congress, that there’s strong political support for fair, common-sense legislation that expand access to education and helps all young people fulfill their potential.”
Nearly six in ten voters support Maryland’s DREAM Act, according to a Washington Post poll released this week, and Educating Maryland Kids is pushing to raise those numbers. Their efforts to get out the vote include phonebanking, door-to-door canvassing, events at churches and town halls, and a million-dollar TV and radio ad campaign.