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'Dream Act' Heads Toward Referendum

Petition against in-state tuition for illegal immigrants garners more than 130,000 signatures; issue expected to lead to litigation first.

The fate of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants in Maryland appears to be headed to voters next year after a campaign to put the issue on the 2012 ballot amassed more than twice the required signatures in only two months.

The campaign has blocked the onset of Maryland’s Dream Act—which was set to take effect July 1—pending verification of the signatures by the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Elections officials have until July 20 to count and verify the signatures, and until July 22 to certify the results. With 47,288 signatures in May already verified, the referendum drive needs only 8,448 out of the 75,000 turned in on Thursday to send the question to voters next November.

But the issue could take a detour into state courthouses before reaching voters. Dream Act opponents have already challenged Montgomery College’s admission policies, and immigrant advocates are contesting the means by which the petition’s signatures were collected.

The Dream Act and the efforts to take it down have thrust the tuition issue to the forefront of Maryland’s heated debate over illegal immigration.

Senate Bill 167 would allow illegal immigrant students to pay in-state tuition if their parents filed to pay state taxes and if they graduated from a Maryland high school after attending for at least three years. The bill passed the House of Delegates by a 74-65 vote and the Senate by a 27-20 vote.

Opponents launched the referendum drive as soon as Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed the bill in May.

The petition drive spanned the state, culminating in a push ahead of its June 30 deadline, amassing 130,000 signatures—far more than the 55,736 needed.

Advocates on both side of the Dream Act rallied on Thursday to mark the deadline’s arrival: supporters in Baltimore in the morning and opponents that evening in Annapolis.

A dozen boxes brimming with petition signatures were stacked in front of the Maryland Secretary of State’s office as Del. Neil C. Parrott—one of three delegates spearheading the drive—turned in a haul of signatures.

The petition had amassed 57,505 signatures by the end of May—of which, 47,288 were verified and 10,217 rejected. For June, the haul topped 75,000.

"There’s been a huge surge of signatures in the past few days, specifically today," said Parrott (R-Dist. 2B) of Washington County. "… The people of Maryland have spoken, and they’re going to win on this petition drive, and they’re going to win on this referendum in November of 2012."

Earlier that day in Baltimore, faith leaders and immigration advocates gathered at Cathedral of the Incarnation to support the Dream Act.

"We hope and pray that the people of Maryland will consider the merits of this law with honest minds and open hearts, and will choose to support it as well," said Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. "The most compelling test of our actions will be the judgment of those who come after us. Today, we want to be sure that these young men and women can look back years from now, and know we stood by them."

Meanwhile, the state Board of Elections will be handing over the list of everyone who signed the petition.

Casa of Maryland, the state’s largest immigrant advocacy group, requested the information via the Maryland Public Information Act.

Three state delegates leading the petition drive—Parrott, Michael D. Smigiel (R-Dist. 36) of the Eastern Shore and Patrick McDonough (R-Dist. 7) of Baltimore County—also asked for the information.

The requests ask for the state Board of Elections to turn over a list of everyone who signed the petition, including an explanation of why the board accepted or rejected each signature, said Linda Lamone, the elections board’s administrator.

Casa of Maryland wants the information in order to make an "independent determination about whether the board violated the law in validating the signatures," said Kim Propeack, the nonprofit’s lead political organizer.

The requests cover signatures from May. Casa will make the same request for June signatures, Propeack said.

The ACLU of Maryland last month challenged the use of a website to gather signatures. At the time, MDpetitions.com had accounted for roughly one-third of the 57,505 submitted signatures.

"There could have been errors in a lot of different aspects of the documents," Propeack said.

Whatever that outcome, the issue could change course in a state courtroom before reaching the ballot box voting booth.

The tuition issue has already landed in Montgomery County Circuit Court. Last year, three Montgomery County residents—with the backing of Judicial Watch—sued the Board of Trustees for Montgomery College for what they claim is a “de facto” policy of allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition.

That case has been pushed back until at least the end of this year.

Activists expect the referendum drive to follow suit.

“We’ve said from the beginning that this issue is going to be decided by the courts,” Propeack said. “If they hadn’t validated the signatures, [anti-Dream Act activists] would sue. And if they do validate the signatures, supporters will.”

Any such appeal would go to Anne Arundel Circuit Court, Lamone said.

The original version of this story incorrectly identified the group helping represent the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Montgomery College. Judicial Watch is the group.

LosAngelesResident July 08, 2011 at 06:49 AM
"I'm tired of people from western border states extrapolating their own experiences and prejudices to our community." I'm tired of illegal alien propagandists trying to turn my home state of Md. into another L.A.. "It was heartening to read the recent article in the New York Times about how economic conditions in Mexico have improved, so that poor people don't feel compelled to search in the USA for work." The number of Mexicans coming here has always fluctuated, but they still come here by the hundreds of thousands every year. That doesn't include the thousands of babies born to aliens, and the thousands of older Mexicans sponsored for citizenship by their legalized relatives. In L.A., large swearing in ceremonies can resemble latin AARP conventions. Who says crime doesn't pay. "It was also heartening to read that farmers in Georgia are realizing that the racist laws..." Farm workers represent a small and consistent number of the alien population. They have never been the problem, but propagandists use the threat of spoiled food and soaring prices to stop any attempts to control the other 10 million+ illegals that are the problem. The open borders crowd doesn't want a guest worker program because they'll lose their favorite excuse for allowing the other aliens to stay. Racist? If you want to see a viciously racist culture based on skin color, go to Mexico. It is "heartening" to expose the well written propaganda of race-baiting snobs. Try again Goebbels.
Jeff Hawkins July 08, 2011 at 11:41 AM
Do you have any proof that those "same whites" believe what you have written or is this just your opinion? To make a claim like that is in error....
Theresa Defino July 08, 2011 at 12:03 PM
There is no "proof" of your claim. Feel free to provide it, however: percentage of "illegal aliens" in Maryland schools, and data on those schools with the most over-crowded conditions specifically. If you get hurt you can go to any emergency room in the U.S. and be treated. That's due to a 30-year-old law called EMTALA. Look it up. The hypocricy of demanding a repeal of "Obamacare," which provides subsidies for all Americans (except undocumented, should you care to learn the details) and mandates they buy insurance. So viola, they'll have what you want--yet you can't see through your illogic and hatred. That's the truth.
LosAngelesResident July 08, 2011 at 08:57 PM
"There is no "proof" of your claim." http://notebook.lausd.net/portal/page?_pageid=33,48254&_dad=ptl&_schema=PTL_EP Select District & Local District Profiles, then select District wide "Separately, new research released this week indicated that only 48% of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District graduate on time.... Perhaps the most in-depth study ever done of Los Angeles dropouts, it examined individual student transcripts for the class that began ninth grade in September 2001 and should have graduated in June 2005. " http://articles.latimes.com/2008/jun/21/local/me-grads21";;; "percentage of "illegal aliens" in Maryland schools, and data on those schools with the most over-crowded conditions specifically" Nice try! You know that people like you are responsible (lawsuits) for the lack of data about the number of illegal aliens in public schools. Let me guess, 99.99% of all E.L.L. students and their spanish speaking parents are legal residents. Are you one of those hypocrite advocates who claim there are not many "persecuted" illegal aliens here, but when it's time for the Census you file lawsuits claiming the "small" alien population is grossly undercounted. You are my favorite kind of illegal alien advocate: well educated and devious.
Little Lulu August 20, 2012 at 03:10 PM
As i travel throughout the streets of Maryland (particularly Montgomery County, I almost feel as though I'm the one in a foreign country. My neighborhood has become little Havana. I have to learn a new language just to know what people around me are saying because no one speaks the english language of this country.I don't mean this as crude as it may sound, but my once quaint little street has turned into Mexico city..and its not a pretty sight. If I could move I would. I understand that children should not have to pay for the wrong doings of their parents, but really...can't their be some sort of system by which illegal aliens come into this country the right way. If its truly a better life you seek for your self and your family then do it the right way. Our politicians are using this issue of immiigration for their own personal political gain and I'm sick of it. They don't feel the effects of what they're doing...and I doubt that they care. You'll be sorry in ten years...you think this is all great but just wait until the entire state of Maryland passes the law to call this Mexicana Maryland. haha

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