There was such a large crowd of students and supporters of in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants in Annapolis Tuesday that group after group gathered to have their picture taken behind Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley as he signed the bill into law.
"This will allow us to have a more highly educated work force in our state which is good for all of us,” the governor said.
Outside the State House, students celebrated with cheers in Spanish and English
"I’m going to go to college at St. Mary's and I’m going to be a psychologist,” said Anngie Gutierrez, a student at Bladensburg High School.
"I want to be a citizen,” said Dustin, a student from Montgomery County. “I want to pay taxes. I want to do everything right. I‘m excited to give back to this country. This country has given me a lot.”
CASA de Maryland has worked for in-state tuition for many years. The difference this time was that so many young people went to Annapolis and lobbied lawmakers week after week for their vote, CASA said.
"This is a historical moment because thousands of kids who want to make a contribution to this country now are going to have an opportunity to go to college,” CASA de Maryland Executive Director Gustavo Torres said.
The measure allows illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges if they complete two years at a community college. Students also will have to show that their parents paid state income taxes. Male students also will be required to sign up for Selective Service to be eligible for the draft.
The Maryland bill includes a provision that requires illegal immigrants receiving the reduced tuition rate to count as a part of the school's out-of-state student pool, so in-state student slots for Maryland residents won't be affected.
The new law granting in-state tuition to immigrant children who meet certain conditions is scheduled to take effect July 1, but opponents have launched a statewide petition campaign seeking a referendum they want to stop the law from going into effect and put the matter before Maryland voters in the 2012 election.
"Whatever the outcome is, I think it would be fair if all the citizens of Maryland, 5 almost 6 million people have the opportunity to vote on this bill, which I think has huge consequences to the state,” said Delegate Jay Jacobs (R-Kent County).
Opponents have until May 31 to submit one-third of the 55,700 signatures needed to put the measure on next year's ballot. The rest are due June 30.
Republican Delegate Patrick McDonough, one of the Maryland General Assembly's leading critics of illegal immigration, said taxpayers are wasting millions education people who cannot legally be hired in the state. McDonough, who represents parts of Baltimore and Harford counties, said Maryland is being turned into a “sanctuary state” for illegal immigrants.
“This law will only make things worse,” McDonough said.
Torres said that even if opponents succeed in the difficult task of collecting enough signatures for the referendum, he is confident Maryland voters would not overturn the legislation.
“This is about education,” Torres said. “Our people know exactly how education is so important for the families, not only for some families but for everybody.”
The foreign born students may face another fight if in-state tuition is put before the voters as a referendum issue, but on Tuesday, they celebrated victory.
Since 2001, 10 states have enacted laws to allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at public universities: California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Washington. However, many states are cracking down on illegal immigration following Republican gains in November.