With barely 10 weeks before an Election Day decision on the 2011 law that would allow in-state tuition for undocumented students, opponents of the Maryland “Dream Act” are gearing up for a campaign to persuade voters to shoot the act down.
Advocates on both sides of the issue now know how voters will have the question put to them when they take to voting booths November for Maryland’s first referendum on an enacted law in more than 20 years.
On Monday, the Maryland State Board of Elections spelled out the language for all seven questions appearing on the Nov. 6 ballot, of which the Dream Act will be fourth:
Public Institutions of Higher Education – Tuition Rates (Ch. 191 of the 2011 Legislative Session)
Establishes that individuals, including undocumented immigrants, are eligible to pay in-state tuition rates at community colleges in Maryland, provided the student meets certain conditions relating to attendance and graduation from a Maryland high school, filing of income taxes, intent to apply for permanent residency, and registration with the selective service system (if required); makes such students eligible to pay in-state tuition rates at a four-year public college or university if the student has first completed 60 credit hours or graduated from a community college in Maryland; provides that students qualifying for in-state tuition rates by this method will not be counted as in-state students for purposes of counting undergraduate enrollment; and extends the time in which honorably discharged veterans may qualify for in-state tuition rates.
That wording was met favorably by Educating Maryland Kids, a coalition of education organizations, faith groups, labor unions and immigrant and civil rights advocates that was integral to last year’s Dream Act push.
“The ballot language accurately and fairly represents the content of the legislation and makes clear that the Maryland DREAM Act is a simple matter of fairness,” Kristin Ford, spokeswoman for Educating Maryland Kids, wrote in an email to Patch. “Maryland kids who graduated from Maryland high schools and whose families pay Maryland taxes should pay in-state tuition,” Ford wrote.
Brad Botwin, director of the anti-illegal immigrant group Help Save Maryland, would rather see the ballot say “illegal aliens”—instead of “undocumented immigrants”—as the U.S. Supreme Court did in its June decision to uphold the core of Arizona’s controversial law empowering local and state police to make immigration-based arrests.
“It should be a more legalistic term. This is more of a politically correct—for some people—term,” Botwin said. “But people are smart enough to know what that means.”
The Dream Act came into law after years of statehouse wrangling that culminated with Gov. Martin O’Malley’s signature in the final moments of the 2011 legislative session.
Opponents mobilized a petition drive led by Republican Dels. Neil Parrott and Pat McDonough. Their website, MDPetitions.com, helped garner more than 110,000 signatures—twice what was required—in only two months.
Then came a pair of courtroom battles after the ACLU of Maryland questioned the validity of the website’s methods. This June, the state Court of Appeals shot down the ACLU’s challenge, clearing the way for the referendum, reported The Washington Post.
Anti-Dream Act activists expect to see the same sort of groundswell that surfaced during last year’s petition drive.
“The energy is very high,” Botwin said. “It’s still hot and heavy. This is very much on the mind of the voters.”
Help Save Maryland has aligned with the grassroots groups Maryland Society of Patriots and We the People, Carroll County as activists look to spread their message about the impacts of in-state tuition, Botwin said.
“More of the groups are getting together to push the issue,” he said.
In light of the uproar that surfaced last year, Botwin said he doubts that the voter registration efforts of student-driven Dream Act supporters will yield much of an impact at the ballot box.
“Students don’t vote, and I would imagine most of them aren’t citizens,” Botwin said. “At the end of the day, I’m going to the poll and they’re not.”
With seven ballot questions in all—the most that Maryland voters will have ever seen—advocates’ top priority will be to school voters on the complex issues, The Washington Post reported.
“There’s not a lot of time between now and November, and certainly educating, letting people know, is going to take a lot of our effort,” Parrott told the Post.