MD Dream Act Passes

Original: 5/10/11 Issue 16

By: Rocio Rossi

Staff Writer

House 74-65 Senate 27-19

April 2011 marks the birth of a dream for thousands of undocumented students residing in the state of Maryland.

After endless debate and discordant amendments, which threatened to kill the proposal, the Maryland DREAM Act was approved in the State’s House by a 74-65 margin and a 27-19 margin in the State Senate. The passing of the MD DREAM Act allows undocumented students, who have attended at least three years of HS in the state, to attend any university within Maryland at the in-state tuition rate upon completion of two years of college at a MD community college. They would also have to show that either they or their parents are taxpayers.

At the University of Maryland, in-state students pay $8,416 in tuition and mandatory fees annually, while non-residents are expected to pay $24,831, roughly three times as much. Qualifying only for international rates has created the impossibility of being able to continue studying at the university level for most undocumented youth.

However, despite the hopeless obstacles, there have been those that persist to graduate. Esmeralda is a 26 year old Salvadorian student. She came to the U.S at the age of two. Upon her graduation from HS, and her parents faced her with the news of being undocumented and the fact that she was not going to be able to attend college because her family did not have the financial means to pay for it.

She sadly shared, “it took me five years to earn a two year degree […] I had to work like an animal to pay for school.” She graduated with honors from Prince George’s Community College, but prior to the approval of MD DREAM Act she had no hopes of finishing her degree.

The bill was introduced by Senator Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George’s County), a native from El Salvador. In a radio interview, he expressed, “we are talking about children that were brought here by their parents […] what happens is they ultimately become American by all intents and by all, by every meaning of it, except for their immigration status.” He is of the opinion that, “the humane thing to do is to try to help.”

On the other hand, there are those who strongly oppose the bill. They argue that the bill is a waste of taxpayer’s money and provide sanctuary to people who are in the country illegally. Blake Sutherlin, resident of MD, testified angrily during the first hearing of the bill, “to take one dime away from a Maryland citizen and give it to these migrant intruders is shameful.”

Ramirez if of the idea that MD DREAM Act does not add to the deficit, “we are not telling universities that they have to make room for these students; they will have to compete just like any other student who applies. Nothing really changes, except that you keep the best and the brightest.”

It is most important to note that while the MD DREAM Act reduces the cost of attendance, it does not automatically make it affordable for undocumented students. Their status makes them ineligible for most grants and scholarships and disqualifies them from receiving financial aid from the government.

Many students who will benefit from the MD DREAM Act are already planning to take one or two semesters off in order to be able to work and save for tuition. Felipe Gutierrez, an undocumented senior at Blare HS, believes that, “not much is going to change, what we need are scholarships, “

While reduced tuition rates are expected to take effect beginning in fall 2011, the MD DREAM Act is already being challenged by lawsuit threats. Republican Delegate Pat. McDonough stated that, “Maryland has become a Disneyland for illegal immigrants, providing attractions and free rides, costing taxpayers billions.” He believes that this resolution violates Federal Immigration Law and the constitution. “This is going to court,” expressed the delegate.

Most democrat members of Maryland’s congressional delegation believe that a court order declaring the MD DREAM Act unconstitutional is very unlikely. While it could take many months for it to come to trial, it is still worrisome for students.

McDonough is the principal supporter of the lawsuit filed last January against Montgomery College for allowing undocumented graduates of MD high schools to attend the college at an in-county rate. Last month’s hearing determined that the lawsuit is indeed legitimate and a second hearing was scheduled on May 5.

Even though there are strong focus groups against MD’s pro-immigration measure, the state as a whole “values contributions of immigrants and hopes to open doors for them that other states are trying to close, “ said Ana Gutierrez, , Montgomery County Delegate and supporter of the MD DREAM Act.

Upon approval of the MD DREAM Act, Maryland became the eleventh state allowing undocumented students to enroll in universities at the in-state tuition rate. It took nine years of tireless debate, yet at last the dream lives. Ramirez joyfully said, “I am very proud of them [students] because they have not given up. They are very resilient, and I know they are going to do great things.”