Maryland Dream Act: Who Qualifies? Interview with Senator Victor Ramirez
Undocumented immigrant students in the state of Maryland will now be able to enroll in state colleges and also pay the same tuition rates as U.S. citizens.
The state of Maryland has become the 11th state to pass a state-version of the DREAM Act, a bill that will allow undocumented students to receive in-state college tuition, in all 2-year and 4-year state colleges.
Photos by CASA de Maryland
This is an interview over the phone with recently elected Maryland Senator Victor Ramirez (D-PG County), who explains the purpose of this bill and sends a message to Dreamers (undocumented youth).
The DREAM Act was defeated last year at the U.S. Senate. A national version of this bill was rejected by mostly-Republican Senators by the end of last year. Yesterday in Capitol Hill, a group of Democrat U.S. Senators have asked president Barack Obama to use his Executive power to stop the deportations of all DREAM Act students in the country.
The Maryland Dream Act bill was passed last April 12th by a 27-19 vote at the Maryland Senate and by a 74-65 vote in the House, in the last day of the current legislature session.
This a victory of progressive leaders, organizations and immigrant rights advocates in Maryland, led by non-profits CASA de Maryland and Change.org, with the sponsorship of MD Congress members Victor Ramirez, Ana Sol Gutierrez among other Democrat legislators.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has pledged to sign this bill soon. During the interview with Senator Victor Ramirez, he estimated that governor O’Malley will sign the bill by July, so that students can enroll in as early as this fall.
This wasn’t an easy victory, conservative and anti-immigrant groups in Maryland protested the bill as a measure that will increase taxes for Maryland legal residents, and call it “a reward for illegals” . Read more at politics & chocolate blog.
Dreamers in front of the Maryland Capitol’s building
The cost of education
According to Glynis Kazanjian of Bowie Patch:
The research arm for the state legislature, The Department of Legislative Services, estimated it would cost Maryland taxpayers $778,000 in fiscal year 2014 and up to $3.5 million in fiscal 2016 to subsidize the tuition rate undocumented students would receive. There are currently 16 community colleges in Maryland.==
The bill made its way through both chambers Monday amidst Republican efforts to filibuster in the final hours of consideration. […] An amendment sponsored by Gaithersburg-Rockville Del. Luiz Simmons (D), Dist. 17, which would have loosened requirements for some to report income taxes, became the sticking point for opponents.
Opponents of the legislation, including Help Save Maryland, an anti-illegal immigration advocacy group, have threatened to bring the issue to referendum in 2012.
“Students hold each another and pray after watching from the senate gallery as opponents block passage of the “Dream Act” at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, December 18, 2010. The measure would have provided a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.” Photo Reuters
Impact of this bill.
A report of Julianne Hing for Color Lines states:
In Maryland, the law means the difference between $8,416 in tuition that state residents pay and $24,831 that out-of-state students must pay. The economic burden is compounded by the fact that undocumented immigrant students are barred from accessing federal financial aid, grants or loans.
Texas was the first state to pass an in-state tuition bill in 2001. According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, 11 states have passed laws granting undocumented immigrant students the right to pay in-state tuition. Both New Mexico and Texas allow undocumented immigrant students to receive financial aid, and California is considering its own DREAM Act that would allow undocumented immigrant students access to state financial aid.
State delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez and CASA de Maryland’s president Gustavo Gutierrez with undocumented students who will benefit from this bill
What is the Maryland Dream Act?
This is a brief explanation of this bill, elaborated by CASA de Maryland:
The In-State Tuition Bill, or the “Maryland Dream Act” as it is often called, is a piece of legislation that would allow a specific category of students to qualify for in-state tuition at any 2-year community college or 4-year university in the state of Maryland.
1) The In-state Tuition Bill does not only benefit Undocumented students:
While the bill benefits students regardless of their immigration status, undocumented students would not be the only beneficiaries of this bill; US Citizens and Permanent Residents under certain circumstances would also qualify. The in-state tuition is not an immigration reform bill but rather a bill to change the requirements for students to be eligible for in-state tuition, thus making higher education more accessible.
2) In order to qualify for In-State Tuition as a Maryland Resident you must:
• Have attended the last two years and graduated from a Maryland high school; • Plan to attend college within 3 years of graduation; • Come from a family that has paid Maryland income taxes in at least the last year of high school; and • Sign an affidavit stating that they will apply for permanent residency within 30 days of becoming eligible to do so. Students who would benefit from the passage of this bill have been here most of their lives and do not remember much of their “home” countries. In “Plyler vs. Doe”, the US Supreme Court ruled that US residents should have access to K-12 education regardless of their immigration status. But when it comes time to attend college, they are suddenly different from their classmates and friends. Eligible to attend, they are financially closed out by a tuition charges of up to 2 to 3 times the rate paid by other MD students. Most of these students are not eligible for student loans, grants, or scholarships.
3) Intent and Impact of this law:
This bill is primarily intended to help children of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents at a very young age and have work hard throughout they’re academic careers with hope of going to college to further contribute to this country, which they call home.
4) Passing this legislation will not cause a drastic change in what our MD universities look like.
Most of the 10 states that already offer in-state tuition (California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin) recorded less than 300 total students per semester taking advantage of this provision, consistently occupying less than 0.5% of the total student enrollment. In Maryland, it has been estimated that 135 students would be eligible for the program. Most of these students will start in the community college system, which has open enrollment so no spots are at jeopardy for US Citizens. In the four-year college system, these students will be competing on pure merit with any other applicant EXCEPT that they will not be eligible for scholarships or student loans.
5) The In-state tuition bill will provide hope and unity for families
Making higher education more accessible to all students regardless of immigration status provides hope for and a more certain future. Changing the requirements of in-state tuition would make it so that students who qualify continue working hard and remain motivated because more options will be made available to them. Motivated students are the best way to reduce the societal issues that plague our community such as teen pregnancy, substance abuse and gangs. When students see a future for themselves, and a possibility of attending college, they are more likely to stay in school and graduate.
6) Making college more accessible for the immigrant youth will help the economy
We have heard in committee in prior years from a nurse who spent eight years getting her Associate’s Degree. She went to night school while she cleaned homes in Potomac during the day. We shouldn’t put any obstacles in the way of Julissa Reyes and people like her. We have a nursing shortage in this country. While Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in the union, we continue to face shortages in key labor markets, including nursing, teaching, and other medical support professions. The overwhelming majority of these students are bilingual, driven, and have proven work ethics, demonstrated by working nights or weekends while attending high school. Allowing these aspiring professionals to go to college will help fulfill the shortage in each of their field of interest. Investing in the higher education of these bright students reduces public spending on social and health benefits and increases tax revenue. The Comptroller of Texas, the first state to enact a similar law, found that every dollar the state invested into higher education yielded more than five dollars for the Texas economy in the long run.
- – Senator Victor Ramirez is the son of immigrant parents, and he is now a successful community activist and politician. Learn more about Victor Ramirez.
- – Read more posts about the DREAM Act in this blog.