Posted on July 13, 2011

Md. Voters to Decide Immigrant Tuition Law

Aaron C. Davis, The Washington Post, July 7, 2011

Opponents of a new law that gives undocumented immigrants in-state tuition discounts at Maryland’s public colleges have gathered enough signatures to suspend the law and force a statewide referendum, election officials said Thursday.

It is the first time in 20 years that a petition drive has forced a vote on a Maryland law.

Under the law, undocumented immigrants who can prove that they have attended Maryland high schools for at least three years and that their parents or guardians have begun paying taxes were to have been allowed to begin courses this fall at community colleges at in-state rates. The measure was approved in the closing hours of this year’s legislative session after years of failed attempts.


The success of the Internet petition appears poised to have a profound effect beyond the referendum at hand.

“This issue of illegal immigration tapped into a zeitgeist. With the economy, it was ripe to be the first referendum to succeed in 20 years,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College. “But the way it was done, this will have a major impact, too. Maryland Republicans can now use this as an alternative means to have influence . . . and as a result, same-sex marriage is likely dead in the General Assembly for the near future.”


Alisa Glassman, lead organizer of one of those groups [who backed the immigration tuition measure], Action in Montgomery, predicted Thursday that even if the tuition law proceeds to a referendum, proponents would prevail at the ballot box.

“The language used to gather signatures has for the most part been very narrow, mean-spirited and, at times, racist,” Glassman said. “We believe that once a counter-narrative is put out there, one that speaks to the greater good, the Maryland DREAM Law will prevail.”

For a four-year degree, the plan could cost Maryland $40,000 per student, and state analysts had estimated that hundreds of undocumented high-school graduates would begin applying for aid this summer. Immigrant groups say that those students’ college plans are now in limbo, and that for many, college in the fall may be out of reach financially.


Opponents needed at least 55,736 signatures, or 3 percent of those who cast ballots in the last statewide election, to push the measure to a vote in November 2012. The board reported Thursday that 63,118 signatures had been validated by local officials. Counting and certifications of signatures will continue for weeks because opponents turned in more than 130,000 signatures. {snip}