Alan Marroquin, a student member of Casa de Maryland, at a meeting between state Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery County, and pro-immigrant demonstrators in Annapolis. (Photo by Maryland Newsline's Maite Fernandez)
ANNAPOLIS – Hundreds of immigrants converged at the State House Monday to press legislators to pass the Maryland DREAM Act, a bill that would allow students to pay in-state college tuition regardless of their immigration status, if they graduated from a Maryland high school and attended that school for at least two years.
“This is the future of Maryland,” Gustavo Torres, director of the advocacy group Casa de Maryland, told the crowd. He added passage in Maryland could send a strong message to the nation. A similar proposal failed in Congress in December.
A preliminary Senate vote is expected this week.
Torres and others also said they opposed anti-immigration laws being considered by the General Assembly. State Del. Pat McDonough, R-Baltimore County, introduced more than a dozen different bills targeting illegal immigration.
McDonough said in a telephone interview he is opposed to the in-state tuition bill because it benefits people who don’t have a lawful presence in the state. He says it would be expensive.
The state Department of Legislative Services estimates it could cost taxpayers about $3.5 million by fiscal year 2016.
McDonough added that it could cause legal immigrants and Maryland students seeking acceptance to public universities to lose spots. “I think that’s utterly unfair,” McDonough said.
Casa de Maryland organized the demonstration, arranging for 38 buses to take demonstrators to the state capital.
Among the participants were students from several high schools, faith leaders and their congregations and small businesses and organizations, who met with legislators to express their concerns before rallying at Lawyer’s Mall in front of the State House.
Demonstrators said the Maryland DREAM Act is critical because the higher out-of-state tuition rates have kept many illegal immigrants who attended Maryland high schools from attending college.
According to the bill’s fiscal note, the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates for full-time undergraduates averages more than $10,000 a year, based on proposed fall 2011 rates.
Advocates for the bill argue that it would give some undocumented students who would qualify as Maryland residents the chance to go to college.
“Yes, we can,” some of the students chanted in Spanish.
Carlos Hernandez, a volunteer at Casa de Maryland, told Montgomery County senators and delegates he opposed anti-immigration bills and the use of E-Verify, a program that allows employers to check the immigration status of potential workers.
One of McDonough’s bills would require all contractors working for the state to use the federal E-Verify program.
Hernandez said the state shouldn’t be using its resources to verify the legal status of workers who only want to bring food to their families.
“E-Verify is a proven, successful program,” McDonough said, and added that the federal government already uses it.
“The only reason anyone would be against is that philosophically they believe it’s OK to violate the law and be rewarded and receive a job,” he said.
Demonstrators also raised concerns about the Secure Communities program, which allows local police to check the fingerprints of detainees against immigration records to identify illegal immigrants. The program has already been implemented in 13 jurisdictions in Maryland, among them Prince George’s and Baltimore counties, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data.
ICE officials said recently that the program is mandatory and the agency expects every jurisdiction in the country to participate by 2013.
Critics argue that the program can lead to racial profiling and that immigrants will refrain from reporting crimes to the police for fear of being deported.
The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee voted 7 to 4 last week to approve the Maryland DREAM Act. The bill is scheduled to be heard Wednesday in the House Ways and Means Committee.
More photos in slide show.
–By Maryland Newsline’s Maite Fernandez