Undocumented students cheer vote for tuition bill
A group of students, many of whom identified themselves as in the country illegally, watched the debate and cheered afterward. Many wore graduation gowns to signal their enthusiasm for education. (Some are pictured to the left with Sen. Victor Ramirez who sponsored the bill. Photo credit: Julie Bykowicz.)
The bill requires that illegal immigrants live and work in Maryland for three years before they qualify for lower tuition at state colleges and universities. It is a higher bar than legal citizens who move here from out of state.
The House is set to hold a hearing on the bill next week, though it is unclear if the body will vote on the measure before session is out. Some believe it will share the same fate as same sex marriage, which passed in the upper chamber only to be shelved in the House.
Supporters contended that the bill is intended to provide opportunities to children, many of whom did not choose to immigrate illegally. “This is about education and what the future of Maryland looks like,” said Sen. Victor Ramirez, who sponsored the bill. “It is not about immigration. These kids didn’t make the decision to move to Maryland. Their parents did.”
The bill would save qualifying students from $4,000 to $6,000 a year at community college, according to a legislative analysis. For those who go on to a four-year institution, the savings would increase. In-state tuition at the University of Maryland, College Park this year is $8,655; nonresidents pay $25,795.
Legislative analysts estimate that the bill would cost the state about $800,000 next year, but could grow to $3.5 million by 2016.
Legal residents have to live in the state for three months before becoming eligible for low rates at community colleges. It takes one year of residency to qualify for in-state rates at the four-year universities.
The General Assembly passed similar legislation in 2003 but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican. Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
Illegal immigration has grown more controversial on the state level over the last decade, and some who supported extending benefits to illegal immigrants no longer do.
Sen. Robert A. Zirkin voted for the 2003 version when he was in the House of Delegates but did not support it yesterday. The Baltimore County Democrat said he’s had an “evolution” in his thinking. “I’ve learned a lot more about how immigration works,” he said.
Ten other states offer in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, but none are closer than New York. Republicans said the legislation would attract throngs of undocumented workers to Maryland.