EDUCATION: The Dream is up for debate this summer

EDUCATION • BY DARLENE REYES

President Barack Obama’s June 15 statement on immigration policy, not surprisingly, evoked mixed responses, but it has also caused some confusion for local residents who are closely following Maryland’s Dream Act.

Maryland’s highest court ruled on June 12 that voters would have the final say in November about Maryland’s Dream Act, which would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition.

However, with Obama’s announcement that the federal government would no longer deport undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 who have graduated from high school, have served in the military or are attending school, Marylanders may wonder how it will affect the Maryland Dream Act.

Maryland’s Dream Act, unlike the national Dream Act, would not guarantee a pathway to citizenship. Its main purpose is to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition while attending college.

“We were excited by the news [of Obama’s announcement],” said Kristin Ford, communication director at Educating Maryland Kids. Ford believes that Obama’s policy complements the Maryland Dream Act and it makes for “an even stronger case to protect the Maryland Dream Act this November.”

With Obama’s policy, undocumented immigrants who qualify will also be able to apply for work permits. This will not change their citizenship status and is only a deferment of deportation.

The Maryland Dream Act requires that students meet several standards. For undocumented students to qualify, they would have to have graduated from a Maryland high school and have completed 60 credits at a Maryland community college. In addition, their parents would have to have paid taxes for the prior three years. Male students would need to sign up for selective service.

“I was very happy that Obama made the announcement,” said Yves Gomes, who had applied for deferred action in 2010 and was facing deportation at the end of this summer. Gomes earned his associate degree in biology and chemistry from Montgomery College and is waiting to hear from the University of Maryland in College Park.

Gomes would qualify for Obama’s new immigration policy, as he is under 30 and has lived in the United States since he was one-and-a-half years old. However, until Maryland’s Dream Act is passed, he will have to pay out-of-state tuition. At the University of Maryland, out-of-state tuition is $26,026, compared to the in-state tuition cost of $8,655.

Educating Maryland Kids, Casa de Maryland and other organizations that favor the Maryland Dream Act are focusing on educating Maryland residents about the legislation prior to the November referendum.

Help Save Maryland, an organization opposing the Maryland Dream Act, has already started its campaign to convince voters to oppose the potential law. According to Ford, one of Help Save Maryland’s main arguments against the bill is that it will increase competition for Maryland residents’ children.

However, the bill states that those who qualify will have to attend and earn 60 credits at a community college, and most tend to have rolling admissions so competition is not likely. Once the qualifying undocumented immigrants finish their 60 credits, they will be judged on their academic merit to get into a Maryland university, just as any Maryland resident. The only difference is that those undocumented immigrants will be considered as out-of-state students but will pay in-state tuition, according to Ford.

Help Save Maryland has also stated that it is difficult to know whether undocumented immigrants pay taxes and that they are not allowed to sign up for selective services. Ford refutes both of these claims.

“The IRS doesn’t care about your immigration status, they just want your money,” said Ford. The IRS allows people to use a taxpayer identification number if they do not have a Social Security number. And, the Selective Services have been known to allow undocumented males to sign up in order to obtain their Green Card, thus the idea of “Green Card Soldiers”.

The fate of DREAMers, those who qualify for the Maryland and national Dream Act, rests in the hands of Maryland voters on November 6.