Ricardo Campos (in black jacket) and the rest of Casa de Maryland erupts in cheers as Maryland Dream Act gets approved (Photo/Courtesy Susana Flores)

For Maryland Latinos, Dream Act paves way to success

Veronica Saravia has always wanted to be a psychologist. Yet, for many years she planned to defer pursuing her dreams to work for three years after high school so that she could save money. But all of that changed Tuesday night.

On Election Day, Maryland voters approved an act that allows undocumented students who were brought to the United States as children to pay in-state tuition rates at community colleges and public universities. The act, which is being hailed as the Maryland version of the “Dream Act,” had previously won approval by Governor Martin O’Malley and the Democratic General Assembly, but a popular petition signed by critics forced a referendum on the issue. This time around, the law garnered an impressive 59 percent of the vote.  Forty-one percent voted against the measure.

Saravia says she was surprised by the overwhelming support that the Dream Act received. She spent endless hours working with the community organization Casas de Maryland in order to push for the legislation, and informing people about it through phone banking and in person outreach. She says that while poll results showed that Maryland voters strongly favored the law, she was not expecting it to receive as many votes as it did.

“I was mesmerized,” Saravia says of her first reactions to reports that the state act had been approved. “We already knew we were going to win, but winning with such a huge lead, we were just so excited and screaming and jumping up and down.”

Saravia says she was also surprised by the types of voters who supported the act.

“It was amazing how people came out and supported us. It was not just Latinos but the African-American community, Asians, white people, everyone came out,” Saravia says.

Like Saravia, undocumented student and Casa de Maryland member Ricardo Campos was similarly overwhelmed by the support for the Dream Act. He says the first moment he found out the act was approved was indescribable.

“My first reaction was to tear up and start crying. It was priceless. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so happy before,” Campos says.

Campos says he has been working for passage of the Dream Act for three years. He graduated from high school in 2010 and went to the only community college in Maryland that offered everyone in-state tuition regardless of their citizenship status. But when he finished with his 60 credits, he had nowhere left to climb. Now he is relieved that he has a path to success.

“I wanted to transfer to University of Maryland, but without the Maryland Dream Act it was impossible. The difference between in-state and out-state tuition is almost three times as much,” Campos says. “Now my dream is becoming reality and I will be able to pursue my dreams in the country I have been calling home for eleven years.”

For Saravia, the act’s approval also meant a change in her personal plans. Next week, just one week after the law was approved, she gets to follow her dream- applying for colleges.

“I would have had to take three years off. But now, I don’t have to. I really just want to go to school and study psychology because I want to help people,” Saravia says. “Especially because I’ve been helped in so many ways.”

RELATED: Maryland approves Dream Act  

According to Casa de Maryland Executive Director Gustavo Torres, the Dream Act was the first time this type of legislation was put to the people by popular vote.

“Nearly sixty percent of Marylanders are saying ‘we welcome the immigrant community, we value your contribution to our state,'” Torres says.

The future of the Maryland legislation is set in stone, according to Torres. He says that while the law got off to a rocky start, it’s finally here to stay.

“This is something they can’t take away, it wont be subject to any more challenges. This is it, the voters have spoken,” Torres explains. “Implementation is starting right now”

According to Inside Higher Ed, the measure is expected to affect nearly 435 students entering each class. While the act is undoubtedly a huge victory for immigrant advocates, some are left wondering whether the act will actually make a big impact. University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh told the Washington Post that the strict eligibility requirements of the act may limit the amount of people who can actually benefit from the legislation. The Act stipulates that students are only eligible if they or their family has been paying taxes, if they attended a Maryland high school for three years and if they first attend a community college.

Torres acknowledges that the laws are some of the most strict in the nation, but he says that a majority of Latinos are happy with the compromise.

“This is tough legislation, but we accept the negotiations on those particular issues. Our community knows what we need to do to be eligible,” Torres says. “Most of these families are paying taxes anyway.”

Torres said that while Maryland’s legislation will make a big difference in the lives of undocumented Latinos in Maryland, their message needs to be heard around the nation.

“It’s not only Latinos who benefit from these types of laws, but the entire state. It’s time to send that message to the rest of the country,” Torres says.

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Campos has a similar message for the rest of the country.

“I hope that we are going to make sure that comprehensive immigration reform passes and that people will finally be able to legalize in this country. Now is the moment,” Campos says. “Minorities brought the president back for a second term. Now he owes us.”

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