In Maryland, the “dream” is alive. In November, residents will vote on the Maryland Dream Act, which would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities. Although the state legislature approved the measure last year, opponents gathered enough signatures to put it before voters. Now it looks like the Maryland Dream Act will pass – because the public recognizes its economic, social, and practical benefits.
Twelve states currently allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates, provided they meet certain conditions. In Maryland, students must have spent three years in a state high school and their parents must have paid taxes for at least three years. If the Maryland Dream Act is approved, more states may consider similar legislation. So let’s review the Act’s impact, for it could serve as a national model.
For starters, the Maryland Dream Act will have a major financial payoff. A study by the University of Maryland found that passing the Act would yield $66 million in annual economic benefits to society. This figure represents the estimated increased earnings potential of each year’s class of undocumented graduates, as well as higher taxes paid and less dependence on social services. The annual net benefit to the state and local government is estimated at $6 million. No wonder The Washington Post called the Act “a surefire investment in the state’s economic prospects.”
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, The Baltimore Sun, union officials, and religious leaders support the Maryland Dream Act. They realize that it is not fair to hold young people back on account of their parents. Nor is it wise to spend thousands of dollars educating children up to twelfth grade and then slam the door on their future.
The Maryland Dream Act is sound policy because it lets motivated young people fulfill their potential. Undocumented youth have a tremendous problem finding money for college. Their parents’ incomes tend to be low, and they are not eligible for Pell grants, loans, and most scholarships. The Act enables them to succeed, by making college more affordable.
The Maryland Dream Act is compliant with federal law. Courts have upheld measures in California and Kansas allowing tuition equity for the undocumented. The courts found residency, not immigration status, to be the true test of whether a person qualifies for in-state benefits.
A leading opponent of the Maryland Dream Act, Brad Botwin, told The Washington Times that “College is not a right, it’s privilege, and they (undocumented students) should pay their own way.” But under the Act, undocumented students do pay their own way; they simply pay the same rates as other state residents. No undocumented student receives a benefit that is not available to a citizen. The University of Maryland study also concluded that the prospect of the Act becoming an incentive for illegal immigration was unlikely.
Consider all the reasons that the Maryland Dream Act is right for Maryland, and then extrapolate them to larger states with greater undocumented populations. The benefits only multiply.
In a roundabout way, opponents of the Maryland Dream Act may have furthered the cause of tuition fairness for undocumented students. By taking the measure to the public, they thought they could defeat it; instead polls indicate that it is likely to be approved by voters. That a state with a relatively small Hispanic population will support pro-immigrant legislation is a good thing. And the Maryland Dream Act complements the Obama administration’s deferred action policy. Together, these measures help undocumented young people maximize their opportunities in the only place they call home.
The Maryland Dream Act will allow undocumented youth to pursue their education and contribute to society. It will increase the quality of the state’s workforce and strengthen its economy. It is an investment in Maryland’s future that will set an example for other states. On November 6, the Act deserves to be approved.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.