Surrounded by legislators, students and advocates on May 10, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law SB 167, a controversial measure that provides in-state tuition for immigrant high school graduates.

The “Public Institutions of Higher Education-Tuition Rates-Exemptions” bill prompted Franklin Garcia, president of the D.C. Latino Caucus, to e-mail District political groups asking for the same measure in the nearby city.

“We would like to see our DC City Council take on similar legislation in the nation’s capital and our Mayor Vincent Gray, sign into law a Dream Act that doesn’t leave our children behind,” Garcia said in a statement. “The Maryland legislation is bittersweet news for us, for while we rejoice for the children of Maryland we weep for our own. SHAME ON YOU DC.”

Under the Maryland legislation, high school graduates will only receive in-state tuition for community colleges, and must provide Maryland income tax documentation that the student or the student’s legal guardian filed. Providing documentation is already difficult for immigrants, Garcia said. Immigrants must provide a Social Security ID card to acquire a driver’s license. Garcia said language must be changed in existing laws to adopt a bill such as the SB 167 in D.C.

“If you go to the Social Security Administration and they are not able to issue a social security card, they can issue a letter the DMV would consider that letter,” he said, “but someone can be subject to deportation.

“You can see the challenges we have with some of these laws … This is not unique to the Latino community and I think our young people should definitely not be forgotten.”
Joshua Lopez, the youngest and only Latino at-large candidate in the recent D.C. election, agreed.

“I support it. These are young people who wish to continue their education … They just want to advance in life,” he said. “If we want to have it in D.C. , we need to have young people to directly speak out about it.”

But any such measure in D.C. will likely face opposition as it did in Maryland from individuals such as Ann Corcoran, the blogger of the Potomac Tea Party Report. As a Marylander and member of the Hagerstown Tea Party, Corcoran has helped circulate a petition to stop the tuition benefits bill.

“I think SB 167 is fundamentally unfair,” she said. “They are illegal aliens. I feel sorry for these young people, don’t get me wrong, but we better get the borders sealed first or the issue is going to become increasingly impassioned.”

Detractors are campaigning to get thousands of signatures by May 31 to put a referendum on the ballot, according to Mdpetitions.com, a site endorsed by Maryland Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington). “It’s not rocket science! Illegal = against the law,” the site states. “Many Marylanders cannot afford to send their own children to college, yet this bill uses their tax dollars to pay for illegals to go to college.”

Garcia said that since immigration is not the decision of a child, they should not be punished for their parents’ choice. “These are kids that were brought here when they were 2, 3, 4 … now they find themselves much later in life … and this idea that we would abandon them, there’s something wrong here,” Garcia said.

The office of Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D) said the council has not drafted a bill similar to SB 167 and Doxie McCoy, spokeswoman for Mayor Vincent Gray (D) said,” The executive has not yet taken a position on the issue.”

Maryland joined 10 other states that have similar benefits for immigrants who are undocumented.

 

Erica Butler

AFRO Staff Writer