September 22, 2011

National group joins in-state tuition battle

The Washington group Judicial Watch filed papers Thursday to intervene in the lawsuit over legislation to extend in-state tuition discounts to illegal immigrants.

he conservative group, which bills itself as a watchdog on immigration, can bring money and national attention to the battle in Maryland, where the controversial measure was suspended after opponents successfully petitioned for a statewide vote.

“There is no question that the Maryland DREAM Act should be put to a referendum,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. “The illegal immigration lobby simply wants to keep Maryland voters from having their say on the issue.”

The legislation was approved this year by the Democratic General Assembly and signed by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley.

But a Republican-led petition drive gathered enough signatures to put the Dream Act on the ballot in November 2012. The effort, which attracted Republicans, Democrats and independents, was the first successful petition drive campaign in ten years. That effort was overturned in a court challenge.

CASA de Maryland and other immigrant advocates are suing the State Board of Elections, which they say validated many of the signatures improperly.

Judicial Watch said Thursday it would represent the organizers of the petition drive.

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Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:43 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Immigration

August 18, 2011

Judge dismiss MoCo illegal immigrant tuition suit

Sun colleague Andrea Siegel reports:

A Montgomery County judge has dismissed a lawsuit that demanded a Montgomery County community college end its practice of offering in-county tuition rates to illegal immigrants.

A spokeswoman for Montgomery College, which has campuses in Rockville, Takoma Park and Germantown, told The Baltimore Sun last year that the school's policy is to offer the reduced tuition rate to anyone who can demonstrate that he or she lives in Montgomery County or graduated from a public high school there within the past three years.

Washington-based Judicial Watch filed, which describes itself as a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, filed the lawsuit against the school's board of trustees in Circuit Court in January, saying the practice violates state and federal law.

The organization filed its lawsuit after Maryland Del. Patrick L. McDonough said an audit of Montgomery College suggested the cost to taxpayers might have topped $2 million for about 11,000 credit hours during the 2009-10 academic year, as the state was struggling with a budget shortfall.

The college spokeswoman responded at the time that the 11,000 credit hours cited in the audit represented students who did not provide information beyond address or local high school diploma. She said the number was not used in determining state funding; she said the two-year college complies with the law.

But the tuition break appeared to defy a 2006 by then-Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who told the Prince George's County Community College Board of Trustees that it “lacks the authority to waive the out-of-county tuition rates for undocumented aliens.”

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Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 9:28 PM | | Comments (3)

August 12, 2011

McDonough to join in-state tuition lawsuit

Del. Patrick McDonough is assembling a legal team to help fight a court challenge against a popular petition seeking to repeal the MD Dream Act, a controversial law that would give illegal immigrants discounted in-state tuition rates at Maryland colleges and universities.

McDonough (pictured on the right) said that the petition is so important that it "ranks up there with Oxygen" and wants to ensure that legal challenges fail so voters can determine whether the law should be implemented. The question is set for the 2012 ballot.

He said he will add himself to the case as an intervenor next week. 

Earlier this month the immigrant rights group CASA de Maryland filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the in-state tuition petition, which attracted nearly 109,000 valid signatures. Should the petition survive this legal challenge it will trigger the first state-wide referendum on a General Assembly-passed law in 20 years.

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Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:47 PM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Immigration

August 1, 2011

CASA wants to overturn in-state tuition petition

** Updated to includes grounds for lawsuit

CASA de Maryland wants a court to overturn the petition drive that suspended the Maryland Dream Act, and plans to sue the Maryland State Board of Elections, a spokeswoman said. Their hope is to reinstate the controversial law and prevent it from going to referendum in 2012.

Joe Sandler, an attorney hired by Casa, said at a news conference this morning that the petitions generated by the website should not count because the computer fills out some voter information. He also says that the Maryland Dream Act should be viewed as an appropriation, a type of law that can not be petitioned to ballot.

More than 132,000 Marylanders signed a petition this summer to reject a state law allowing illegal immigrants tuition discounts at state colleges and universities -- nearly double the number needed to trigger a referendum. But CASA funded lawyers have spent the past few weeks poring over the petitions looking for flaws.

There's been no public polling on the issue, but my Sun colleague Julie Bykowicz wrote in Sunday's paper about Maryland's split personality on immigration issues. The state funds flow to CASA, a group that welcome immigrants regardless of status; but some counties have used their tax money to aggressively deport undocumented workers.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 8:00 AM | | Comments (56)
Categories: Immigration

July 25, 2011

In-state tuition petition attracts tens of thousands of Democrats

Nearly one out of every three people who signed a petition opposing the Maryland Dream Act are registered Democrats, according to data from the state board of elections.

The information backs up contentions by GOP Del. Neil Parrott and others that the Republican-led effort to repeal the law has bipartisan support. The state board of elections on Friday said that enough valid signatures were collected to trigger a referendum on the law in 2012.

The party identification data tracks with figures from an initial batch of petitions due at the end of May. The opponents of the new law turned in a total of 108,923 valid signatures. Just over 32,000 came from Democrats.

The law would allow illegal immigrants access to the same discounted in-state tuition at Maryland's colleges and universities that legal residents pay. Undocumented students would have to prove their parents filed tax returns and show that they'd attend a Maryland high school for three years. It was supposed to be enacted in July, but has been suspended because of the referendum.

There's been no polling (that I'm aware of) on the in-state tuition law. But, if the voter registration trends from the petition hold, the law could be in trouble. Should the GOP vote en mass against the bill and pick up one third of the state's Democrats, the law would theoretically lose by about 140,000 votes. (Of course, that assumes perfect turnout. Email me if you are dying to see the math.)

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Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:50 PM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Immigration

July 22, 2011

Immigrant tuition referendum officially makes ballot

The State Board of Elections today notified petitioners that they have succeeded in their effort to have Maryland voters weigh in on a new law enabling illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.

But advocates of the tuition bill have until Aug. 1 to file a lawsuit challenging the referendum.

Elections officials have been counting and validated signatures over the past few weeks. In all, the board accepted 108,923 signatures, nearly double the 55,000 or so needed to secure the referendum a spot on the November 2012 ballot.

“Today the voters of Maryland have achieved a huge victory,“ Del. Neil Parrott said in a statement. The Washington County Republican led the petition effort.

“When we started this petition drive, we knew that Maryland voters wanted more financial responsibility in Annapolis and wanted the enforcement of our immigration laws, not ways to skirt around the law. Today marks the beginning of the end for an illegal alien benefits bill that simply does not make sense.”

Kim Propeack of immigrant advocacy group Casa de Maryland said Casa and other groups are eyeing a lawsuit.

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Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:56 AM | | Comments (30)
Categories: Immigration

July 14, 2011

Less than $14,000 spent on petition drive

The latest campaign finance filings show that freshman Del. Neil C. Parrott spent just under $14,000 on his successful drive to put the Maryland Dream Act on the 2012 ballot.

Parrott, a Washington County Republican, kicked off a signature gathering effort in mid-April with $4,800 of his own money. As cash trickled in, he paid himself back. The campaign reported a balance of $11,095, funds Parrott can use to fight any legal challenge.

"We ran a really clean tight campaign and used the money very effectively," Parrott said.

More than 130,000 Marylanders signed the petition, and as of this afternoon 104,728 signatures had been validated by the state board of elections. Local boards must finish counting next week

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Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:34 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Immigration

July 13, 2011

Tuition referendum tops 100K signatures

* Updated with Wednesday afternoon numbers from Board of Elections.

State officials sifting through thousands of pages of petitions reported this afternoon that a group trying to repeal the in-state tuition law have 102,338 valid signatures, nearly twice the number needed to trigger a referendum.

Today's report, which notes that 21,170 signatures have been rejected for various reasons, indicates elections officials are nearly done with the validation process. Petitioners submitted roughly 132,000 signatures.

The group surpassed the needed 55,736 signatures last week, but the surplus gives them a healthy cushion in case a court throws out some of the signatures. Casa de Maryland and the ACLU have both raised legal questions about methods used to gather signatures.

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Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:56 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Immigration

July 11, 2011

Tuition petition: Signature count climbs past 87,000

* Updated throughout the day with Monday counts. 

The number of valid signatures on a petition to stop in-state tuition breaks for illegal immigrants climbed rapidly Monday, topping reached 87,000 by about 4 p.m., according to the most recent report posted by the Board of Elections.

Counting is to continue this week; several thousand signatures are left to be validated.

The tutition petition has already crossed the threshhold needed to put it on the November 2012 ballot. The controversial new law, called the Maryland Dream Act, will be suspended until voters have their say, though supporters have vowed court action over the referendumeffort.

The latest elections board report shows that 17,938 signatures have been tossed for various reasons, including signing with a name that did not closely match the person's voter registration information. Baltimore County, where Republican Del. Patrick McDonough is an outspoken opponent of illegal immigrants, has so far supplied more than 17,000 valid signatures.

Petitioners submitted 74,980 signatures on June 30. Round One, which was due at the end of May, yielded 47,288 valid signatures.

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Categories: Immigration

July 7, 2011

Elections board to resume tuition petition tally

Annie Linskey reports:

State elections officials on Thursday plan to resume reporting the tally of verified signatures for their petition against the new law that would extend in-state tuition breaks at state colleges and universities to illegal immigrants.

The first batch of signatures, submitted in May, brought petition organizers within less than 8,500 verified names of getting the controversial law suspended and put on the 2012 ballot, where voters would have the final say.

After submitting nearly 75,000 more signatures before the final deadline last week, they are expected to soar past that goal.

“It probably won’t take them long” to get to the threshold, predicted Del. Neil Parrott, the Washington County Republican who has led the effort.

A lawyer from the Maryland Office of the Attorney General told the elections board Wednesday that officials must review all of the petitions submitted, and not simply enough to reach the 55,736 valid signatures needed to trigger the referendum.

The directive reversed advice the attorney general’s office provided for a petition drive against an abortion law. In that effort, the elections board stopped counting once they reached the number required to trigger a referendum.

“We are going to count them,” said David Paulson, a spokesman for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. “It is the law. All the signatures will be counted.”

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Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (9)

July 1, 2011

In-state tuition petition by the numbers

A giddy group of mostly freshman Republican delegates and their staff and spouses turned in 74,980 signatures to the secretary of state's office last night -- filling thirteen boxes with petitions from Marylanders who oppose The Dream Act.

Last night's haul brings the total number of signatures gathered to 132,485. The group needs 55,736 valid signatures to bring The Dream Act to referendum. As a fun contrast, 101 senators and delegates voted for the law, which would give illegal immigrants the same college tuition discounts available to properly documented Marylanders. For more background read The Sun's story today.

Last month the group trying to repeal the law turned in 57,505 signatures, and of those 47,288 were valid. That means to succeed the group only needs 8,448 of the 74,980 signatures handed in last night to be valid -- or an 11 percent acceptance rate.

More remarkable: The group gathering petitions,, reported that they spent $7,500 on their effort. They reported having $12,000 left over. So, in essence, they spent about six cents per signature. (This does not account for volunteer time, which was considerable in this effort.)

And they were getting attaboys until the end. One couple strolling in downtown Annapolis last night stopped because they saw the boxes. The man asked if the boxes contained the first legal shipment of wine (wine by mail became legal today), when he learned the boxes were full of signatures he excitedly explained that he'd signed a petition too.

Del. Neil Parrott, who was the leader of the signature gathering effort, provided a county by county breakdown showing where signatures were gathered. Baltimore County was the hotbed of opposition with Anne Arundel County a close second (full data after the jump.)

* Photos: Top, Del. Kathy Afzali sits atop boxes of signatures; Bottom, final scramble to organize petitions before turning them in Thursday night 


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Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:35 AM | | Comments (36)
Categories: Immigration

June 30, 2011

Opponents of in-state tuition have 100K signatures

The Republican-led group trying to repeal the controversial new state law granting new benefits to illegal immigrants reported that they've met their goal of 100,000 signatures opposing the law.

The group submitted 57,000 signatures last month and plan to turn in the balance this evening in Annapolis. So far, the State Board of Elections has determined that 47,000 of the signatures are valid. The group needs another 8,400 acceptable signatures to have the law put to voters in November 2012.

Supporters of the new law, which grants illegal immigrants in-state tuition at Maryland's colleges and universities, held a rally in Baltimore earlier today where they pledged a state-wide campaign supporting the measure.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:45 PM | | Comments (31)
Categories: Immigration

June 29, 2011

Big names rejected from in-state tuition petition

At least two members of the House of Delegates were among the 10,000 Marylanders whose signatures were rejected from the first batch of in-state tuition petitions.

Dels. Michael J. Hough and Susan W. Krebs both submitted petitions with errors, according to a list supplied by the State Board of Elections. Both delegates say they are frustrated that state rules prevent them from resubmitting corrected paperwork.

Hough, a Western Maryland Republican, said the experience might prompt him to introduce legislation next session easing the petition rules so that signers can fix problems. "It is just wrong," Hough said. "The general attitude of the state is to make it difficult to overturn a law."

Krebs' entire family of four were rejected. She immediately knew why: After the family signed a petition Krebs and her husband both added their signatures as witnesses even though only her husband was the designated "circulator." Had she crossed out her name, the all four signatures would have been valid, she was told.

The two delegates are part of an effort to overturn a controversial new law that grants undocumented students discounts at state colleges and universities. They've been collecting signatures for months with a goal of suspending the law and having it put on 2012 ballot.

So far, the opponents have collected 47,000 valid signatures. They have until Friday to submit an the additional 8,700 needed to trigger a referendum. 

Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:57 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Immigration

June 23, 2011

30 percent of petition signers are Democrats

Nearly 30 percent of the signatures on a petition opposing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants are from registered Democrats, according to data released this afternoon from the State Board of Elections.

The data comes from the initial batch of 47,000 valid signatures turned in to the State Board of Elections last month. A second (and final batch) is due at the end of next week.

Republicans made up the majority of signers in all areas save one: Baltimore City, where 80 percent of voters are Democrats. There 56 percent of signers are Dems.

There were also large numbers of Democrats signing in Baltimore County (39%) and in Prince George's County (38 percent).

Organizers of the effort have long said that the new law generates anger from all parts of the political spectrum, though it passed in the General Assembly on a mostly party line vote.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:55 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Immigration

June 22, 2011

Majority of tuition signatures gathered in the field

* Updated with petition and opposition website and location information below. * 

Newly released data from the State Board of Elections shows that petitioners trying to repeal a law providing in-state tuition to qualified illegal immigrants shows that nearly 64 percent of valid signatatures were gathered the old-fashioned way.

As noted this morning in The Sun, volunteers who oppose in-state tuition for illegal immigrants have been hitting the streets hard in recent weeks, camping out at local MVAs, going door to door and approaching Marylanders at festivals, parks and other gathering places.

Del. Neil Parrott, the Washington County Republican organizing the petition drive, said he hopes to have volunteers stationed outside every MVA building in the state this weekend, during the hours that they are open.

The board today notified petitioners that 47,288 of the 62,000 or so signatures they submitted at the end of last month have been deemed valid. That means petitioners must submit just 8,448 more by the end of this month.

If the petition effort succeeds, Maryland voters would decide in November 2012 whether illegal immigrants should be allowed access to the community college and state university tuition breaks.

Petitioners supported their effort with a sophisticated website that links to a database of registered voters, a controversial method that helps ensure would-be signers use their correct name. The Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and groups that advocate for immigrants have said they plan to challenge the Internet signatures.

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Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:14 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Immigration

June 13, 2011

Baltimore City Council joins chorus against Obama immigration enforcement

The Baltimore City Council tonight voted to adopt a resolution condemning a federal program that is key to President Obama’s strategy to toughen enforcement of immigration laws, joining a chorus of other states and law enforcement agencies across the country in rebuffing the initiative.

According to a press release from Casa of Maryland, the non-binding resolution calls for a suspension of the "Secure Communities" program, which the council says is "undermining public safety in the city for everyone" by mostly deporting people who have not committed an infraction. It was introduced by City Councilman Jim Kraft, who represents Southeast Baltimore.

Across the country, states have been rebuffing the program. Illinois was first, terminating its agreement with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in May. New York followed suit, withdrawing from the program earlier this month, and Massachusetts also notified the Department of Homeland Security that it will not participate. California Governor Jerry Brown is also being pushed to suspend that state's participation. 

Casa officials told The Sun's Julie Scharper that they hope the Baltimore council's resolution will lead the state officials to join other states in suspending the program. Casa claims that 60 percent of those deported in Maryland under the program have been "non-criminals."

ICE says the program helps identify criminal aliens in state prisons and local jails by running their fingerprints against federal immigration databases when they are booked into the system. It has led to record numbers of deportations, almost 8,000, in the past two years, according to reports.

According to an ICE report from January, when 7 of 24 jurisdictions in the Maryland were active in the program, 163 convicted criminal aliens had been arrested and booked into ICE custody. Seventy-two convicted criminal aliens had been removed from the U.S. As of April 2011, 21 Maryland jurisdictions had signed on: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Kent, Prince George's, Queen Anne's, Saint Mary's, Somerset, Talbot and Worcester counties.  

Posted by Justin Fenton at 6:33 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: City Hall, Immigration

June 10, 2011

In-state tuition petitioners call their process sound

The Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the group behind the effort to repeal in-state tuition for illegal immigrants are sparring over the website used in the signature-gathering process -- in what could be a preview of court battles to come.

The ACLU said in a release today that concerns that the website,, is "illegal and vulnerable to fraud," led the group ask the State Board of Elections to "scrutinize" its legality. (Here's a link to the 20-page letter.)

"Online systems for signature gathering in support of a petition drive are new to Maryland, and raise serious questions about whether election officials can meaningfully scrutinize the authenticity of signatures, verify each signer’s intent, and investigate possible acts of fraud," Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland, said in a statement.

Del. Neil Parrott, creator of the website and a leader in the petition drive, fired back that the ACLU's allegations are "baseless" and said "Maryland citizens have a constitutional right to continue to sign the petition online."

The Washington County Republican also called the ACLU "hypocritical" for questioning the petition-signer validation process when the same group frequently calls for lesser voter identification standards at the polls. 

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Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:39 PM | | Comments (42)
Categories: Immigration

June 7, 2011

In-state tuition foes reach first signature goal

Conservative advocates trying to repeal a law that grants new privileges to illegal immigrants came a step closer to their goal this morning when state officials said the group surpassed a preliminary target.

The advocates are trying to gather enough signatures to halt a new state law that grants discounted in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. If they present the State Board of Elections with enough valid signatures by the end of the month the law will be put on hold and the issue will go to the voters on the 2012 ballot.

State officials this morning verified 21,919 of the 62,500 signatures that were submitted on May 31. Officials are still sorting through signatures submitted, so the number of acceptable signatures is likely to grow. The group needed 18,500 valid signatures by May 31 to keep their efforts alive. Remarkably, only 3,723 signatures have been rejected so far. 

The group, led by Republican Del. Neil Parrott, will submit a second batch of signatures by the end of the month. They need 55,736, which is three percent of the turnout for the last gubernatorial election.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Immigration

May 31, 2011

In-state tuition opponents: We have the signatures

Sun colleague Andrea Siegel reports:

Opponents of the new law to extend in-state tuition breaks to illegal immigrants say they are confident they have cleared their first hurdle in stopping the measure by collecting many more than the 18,500 valid signatures they needed by Tuesday to keep their repeal effort alive.

“We have over 40,000,” said Del. Neil C. Parrott, the Washington County Republican who is leading the petition drive to get the controversial law onto the 2012 ballot.

The opponents will need to submit about 56,000 valid signatures to the State Board of Elections by the end of June to suspend the legislation and give the voters the final say. They plan to collect many more, on the assumption that some will get thrown out.

They were required to gather a third of the total by Tuesday. Elections officials now will vet the first batch of signatures.

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Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:06 PM | | Comments (72)

May 20, 2011

Bipartisan interest in immigrant tuition repeal, petitioners say

With about 10 days to go until a critical first deadline on an effort to repeal in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, organizers say they've seen bipartisan support for the effort, reporting that Democrats account for about one-quarter of the people who have downloaded the petition online.

Del. Neil Parrott, a Washington County Republican who is leading the signature drive, has not said how close petitioners are to the 18,500 signatures required by May 31. Today he said the effort is "on track," while acknowledging it "needs a surge" to meet his goal of 35,000 signatures to hand over to the State Board of Elections.

Parrott is seeking the higher number of signatures because strict petition requirements mean the board ends up tossing as much as one-third of them for technical reasons, including a signer's name not matching his or her voter registration information.

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Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:42 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Immigration

May 3, 2011

Internet stars in effort to repeal tuition breaks for illegal immigrants

Opponents of Maryland’s plan to offer in-state college tuition rates to illegal immigrants are optimistic that they can stop the measure in its tracks. (Read the full Sun story here.)

A Republican-led petition drive to repeal the bill approved last month by the Democrat-led General Assembly began in earnest last week and has been welcomed enthusiastically by voters across the state, organizers say.

Organizers say they have combined the traditional boots-on-the-ground with a sophisticated website,, to overcome the challenges of collecting so many signatures in such a short time. (Casa de Maryland's position in favor of the measure can be found here.)

"First, I want to thank Al Gore for inventing the Internet," said Del. Patrick L. McDonough, a key petition drive organizer. "It’s playing a major role, and we have already had a tremendous number of hits."

The site links with Maryland’s voter registration database to automatically fill in the correct name and address of a petition signer, who then may print out, sign and date the form and mail it to the organizers. The mailing address is provided on a printed page that can be folded into an envelope.

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Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 6:45 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Immigration

April 11, 2011

Senate rejects House plan on tuition for immigrants

As key Democrats appeared to withdraw support for a plan to provide in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, the upper chamber voted to reject the House's version of the bill. The move, which followed the beginning of a filibuster attempt, means the two chambers have hours to work out their differences.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who supports the tuition bills, told senators "it's not fair" that the House took so long to develop a plan. He noted that the Senate initially passed the legislation March 14, and it took the House until today -- Sine Die -- to send it back with revisions. (It actually could have come up during Saturday's Senate session but did not.)

In-state tuition could be the nail-biter of the day, though as colleague Annie Linskey writes, much work also remains to be done on a politically freighted issue of whether to raise the sales tax on alcohol.

Republicans appear ready for a fight on both issues. On tuition, Sen. David Brinkley (pictured right) rose to begin a filibuster when he saw that some Democrats who had voted "yes" on the Senate proposal voted "no" on agreeing to the House version. The Senate first adopted the House version by a vote of 24-23.

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Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:55 PM | | Comments (32)
Categories: 2011 legislative session, Immigration

April 8, 2011

In-state tuition for illegal immigrants moves ahead

The House of Delegates voted Friday to extend in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants -- the highest hurdle so far for a plan that has already passed the Senate.

(Click here to see how Senators voted; House roll call vote here.)

Delegates engaged in heated debate before approving the legislation by a close vote of 74 to 66. It now returns to the Senate, which has until the Monday night conclusion of session to concur with the House version.

One of the differences in the two chambers' proposals emerged just today, with an amendment to loosen the requirement that an undocumented student show his or her family has paid state taxes.

Del. Luiz R. S. Simmons crafted language to allow a student to convince school officials that relatives have a "serious and substantial reason" they are unable to pay taxes, for instance, because of serious illness.

Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat, called the amendment "a modest safety valve." Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell said it is more like "a loophole" large enough to accommodate a Greyhound bus.

(pictured: Casa de Maryland director Gustavo Torres embraces Del. Anne Kaiser, the bill floor leader, after the passage of in-state tuition.)

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Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:47 PM | | Comments (69)
Categories: 2011 legislative session, Immigration

April 7, 2011

House begins in-state tuition debate

Delegates spent hours Thursday afternoon discussing a proposal to allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at community colleges and four-year universities. The proposal, which has already passed the Senate, is scheduled for final consideration Friday morning in the House of Delegates.

Undocumented students who would benefit from the legislation — as well as immigrant advocates and supportive clergy from Baltimore, Montgomery County and elsewhere — listened from the House galleries. An even larger group is planning to attend Friday, activists said.

Thursday’s discussion remained relatively technical, with 13 amendments offered and rejected as opponents unsuccessfully tried to chip away at the bill.

Del. Michael D. Smigiel characterized the debate as “a difference in policies and principles.”

“Some of us want a bigger tent,” said the Eastern Shore Republican, who opposes the tuition bill. “Some of us believe that we do something to our society when the word ‘illegal’ not longer means illegal.”

Republican members raised questions about how much the plan would cost.

One fiscal analysis shows the state would pay about $800,000 next year in state aid to community colleges and cost about $3.5 million by 2016. Colleges and universities have said they can absorb a bump in enrollment without raising tuition, and bill advocates said other states that provide in-state tuition to illegal immigrants counted such students as about 1 percent of their enrollment population.

Del. Anne Kaiser, who led the floor debate on the bill, said the cost should be weighed against the benefits of educating all Marylanders. “Many of us believe this should be a priority,” said the Montgomery County Democrat. “There’s room for everyone who wants an education.”

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Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 7:04 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: 2011 legislative session, Immigration

April 6, 2011

House in-state tuition debate delayed a day

The House of Delegates has delayed debate on whether undocumented Maryland high school students should be able to pay in-state college tuition rates. They are now scheduled to take up the plan tomorrow morning.

The House Ways and Means Committee voted the bill out on a straight party-line vote yesterday, breathing life into it after it had lain dormant for weeks. The Senate passed a similar measure several weeks ago.

Movement out of the House committee bodes well for its final passage.

"We're optimistic that we have the votes," said Del. Justin Ross, chief deputy majority whip and a member of Ways and Means. "Otherwise, we wouldn't have voted it out of committee."

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Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:38 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: 2011 legislative session, Immigration

April 5, 2011

In-state tuition bill moves to House floor

A controversial plan to allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates is on track for passage this year, with a vote this afternoon to send the bill for debate in the full House of Delegates.

The House Ways and Means Committee approved the bill on a party-line vote of 14-7 (see jump). Del. Jon Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat, abstained from voting, citing concerns about how the measure could impact the beleaguered state budget.

Under the proposal, illegal immigrants who attended at least three years of high school in Maryland, and whose parents have paid the state taxes, would qualify for in-state tuition rates at community colleges. After two years, they could transfer to four-year institutions and continue to pay residential rates.

The House plan makes several changes to what the Senate approved last month. Men would have to sign up for selective service, as all qualified 18-year-old males do, and the undocumented students would be counted as out-of-state students for admission purposes to avoid displacing other Maryland residents.

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Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 5:18 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: 2011 legislative session, Immigration

March 16, 2011

Some push state to use federal immigration check

State and local government contractors and subcontractors should be forced to use the federal E-Verify program to ensure that all of their employees are in the country legally, Del. Patrick McDonough testified at a hearing Wednesday.

Baltimore County's McDonough and other Republican delegates are making what has become an annual push for the state to adopt the Internet-based immigration status check program, which civil rights groups have said is "error ridden."

Two previous attempts to require E-Verify have failed in the legislature, and this year's effort is unlikely to be embraced.

With higher than usual levels of unemployment nationally and in Maryland, McDonough said, "we better darned well make sure that these are Maryland residents getting these jobs."

The ACLU of Maryland testified Wednesday against McDonough's bill, saying it is problematic and unfair to certain cultural groups, including Latinos, where people may use multiple last names that are noted differently on naturalization documents.

Continue reading "Some push state to use federal immigration check" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:19 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: 2011 legislative session, Immigration

January 18, 2011

Border politics in Maryland

Maryland -- 500 miles from Canada and 1,700 from Mexico -- is far from the country's borders. But that's not stopping state politicians from taking up immigration reform. This morning, The Sun reported on how the federal government's inaction on immigration has left it to Maryland and other states to develop policies.

Estimates of the state's population of illegal immigrants run as high as 250,000. Some lawmakers, including Baltimore County Republican Del. Pat McDonough, believe Maryland's policies have made it a "sanctuary state." He'd like that to change and says he is drafting 16 bills to crack down on illegal immigrants. One piece of legislation would require proof of citizenship to receive public benefits.

Other lawmakers are appealing to their colleagues to allow undocumented students of Maryland public schools to pay in-state tuition, rather than higher rates, at state colleges and universities. Democratic Sens. Victor Ramirez of Prince George's County and Richard Madaleno of Montgomery County will be spearheading that effort. Maryland has already approved in-state tuition once (Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. then vetoed it), and 10 other states have similar policies.

Legislative leaders of the Democrat-heavy General Assembly say the in-state tuition bill is likely to gain the most traction this year. It's sure to inspire heated words on the House and Senate floors, perhaps reminiscent of the tear- and anger-streaked driver's license debate of 2009.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:30 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Immigration

December 28, 2010

Senator wants in-state tuition for illegal immigrants

An incoming state senator said Tuesday that he plans to introduce legislation to give in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants who have attended state high schools.

“After we have invested in their education, it makes sense to treat them equally when it comes to college tuition,” said Victor Ramirez, a Prince George’s County Democrat. He said colleges should focus on residency requirements rather than immigration status.

Annual tuition and mandatory fees at the University of Maryland are $8,416 for state residents and $24,831 for non-residents, according to the school’s website.

Ramirez, who was a delegate for eight years before winning a Senate seat this fall, said his legislation would be similar to a 2007 plan that passed the House of Delegates but faltered in the Senate. Both chambers approved an in-state tuition bill in 2003, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who has referred to illegal immigrants as “new Americans,” has said he would sign an in-state tuition bill.

Continue reading "Senator wants in-state tuition for illegal immigrants" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:24 AM | | Comments (91)
Categories: 2011 legislative session, Immigration

July 15, 2010

O'Malley calls Ariz. law expensive, problematic

In his most extensive comments yet on a debate that is emerging as a campaign issue nationally, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley predicted Thursday that Arizona’s controversial new immigration law would be “problematic” and costly.

“I believe this law is problematic in the long term, especially as it will inevitably be applied,” O'Malley told Washington radio station WTOP.

The Arizona law, which takes effect this month, requires police in that border state to determine the immigration status of a suspect they have stopped for any reason if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is in the country illegally.

Polls indicate the law is popular both in Maryland and nationwide. Supporters describe it as a necessary response to the failure of the federal government to secure the borders

Critics say the law will lead to racial profiling. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit last week seeking to stop Arizona from enforcing it.

O'Malley said border protection was the responsibility of the federal government, not the states.

“We cannot substitute for a lack of federal enforcement by turning all municipal, county and state police into a giant immigration service, nor do we have the money to create large detention camps to hold people until they can prove their citizenship,” he said.

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., O'Malley's likely opponent this fall, expressed support this week for the Arizona law.

“It's no surprise, but I oppose what the Justice Department has done,” Ehrlich said. He said the “wholesale failure of federal policy” gave state leaders the right to try to address immigration on their own.

Continue reading "O'Malley calls Ariz. law expensive, problematic" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:20 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Immigration, People
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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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