Maryland DREAM Act Passes State House, One Hurdle Remains

But the tuition bill faces one more hurdle before it's law.

By Julianne Hing Apr 11, 2011

After passing the state House last Friday, Maryland’s DREAM Act has one more hurdle it must clear by midnight tonight before it becomes law. The bill would allow undocumented immigrant students to be recognized as residents of their home state when it comes time to pay tuition at Maryland’s public colleges and universities.

Students will be allowed to pay in-state tuition if they graduated from a state high school, complete at least 60 credits from a community college and can provide income tax returns for themselves and their parents for the last three years. The designation means the difference between $8,416 in yearly tuition and fees that in-state residents pay and the $24,831 that out-of-state residents must pay. It’s a significant price difference. The burden is compounded by the fact that undocumented immigrants do not qualify for federal financial aid, grants or loans.

"I do not want a free education; I just want to pay the same amount of money as any other Maryland resident that attends a university or college," Jesus Perez told ABC. Perez is an aspiring social worker, and an undocumented high school student who rallied in support of the bill.

On Friday, the bill cleared its most difficult hurdle when it passed the House 74-66 after two hours of heated debate, during which three new amendments were added.

The University of Maryland’s Diamondback Online reported that under the revised language, undocumented immigrant students will be separated during the admissions process and considered out-of-state applicants so they will not have access to seats that the state reserves for Maryland residents. Undocumented immigrant men will also have to register for the the Selective Service if they want to take advantage of their in-state tuition eligibility. Lastly, students with family who are very ill and unable to provide income tax returns will be exempt from that portion of the bill.

Ten states including Texas, California, Kansas, New York, Wisconsin and Illinois currently offer in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant students. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, three states–Arizona, Georgia and Colorado–have passed laws banning undocumented students from accessing in-state tuition. Other states like South Carolina also ban undocumented students from enrolling in public colleges and universities. Last October Georgia joined that list when it passed a law banning undocumented students from enrolling in five of its most competitive public colleges.

Now, Maryland’s bill moves back to the Senate, who must clear the three new amendments before Maryland’s General Assembly ends tonight. Gov. Martin O’Malley has promised to sign the bill. Maryland Republicans have pledged to challenge the bill if it becomes law. Others say the bill is in the best interests of Maryland’s immigrant community and the state’s welfare.

"We must embrace all who wish to contribute to our great state," Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said in a statement following the House vote. "Allowing children of undocumented immigrants who have attended and graduated from Maryland high schools to access an affordable college education will help them give back, both in taxes from higher paying jobs and through service to their community."