An immigrant advocacy group filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to uphold a recently enacted Maryland law that would allow some illegal immigrants to receive tuition breaks.
Casa de Maryland filed suit in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court against the State Board of Elections, alleging elections officials erroneously validated thousands of signatures that helped send the state's Dream Act to a November 2012 referendum.
The group also argues that the law - which would allow in-state tuition for many college-aged illegal immigrants - addresses state spending and is therefore not subject to referendum. The lawsuit has been endorsed by the Maryland State Education Association and the Service Employees International Union Local 1199.
"This law was approved by our elected representatives and is not the type of law subject to referendum," said Joseph Sandler, a lawyer with Sandler, Reiff, Young and Lamb - one of two firms representing Casa de Maryland, along with Arnold and Porter LLP.
Mr. Sandler said attorneys and volunteers conducted a "painstaking line-by-line" review of signatures and found they "fell far short."
The Dream Act narrowly passed the Democrat-controlled General Assembly in April. Opponents then mounted a two-month petition drive that netted nearly 109,000 valid voter signatures, as determined by elections officials.
That nearly doubled the 55,736 signatures needed to force a statewide vote.
Dream Act supporters for several months have questioned the methods of petitioners, including their use of a website, mdpetitions.com, that allowed residents to print and circulate their own copies of the petition.
Nearly one-third of all of the approved signatures were on petitions obtained from the website.
The plaintiffs allege the site violated state petition laws by using online voter records to automatically fill in some personal information for visitors attempting to download the petition.
They argue that it violates the requirement that all petition signers personally provide all of their own information. The Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union threatened in June to sue the state for the same reason but is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed Monday.
Mr. Sandler said volunteers and lawyers reviewed 47,000 signatures that were approved in June and found more than half should have been invalid for various reasons. He used the rate of failure to project 58,000 of the nearly 109,000 approved signatures should be invalidated, which would leave the petition drive about 4,000 signatures short of its requirement.
He also argued that thousands of approved signatures were written to petition copies that did not contain a required summary of the text of the law and that the Dream Act is an appropriations law - making it not subject to a petition drive.
According to the state, laws that establish new spending cannot be challenged to referendum, unless the spending exceeds the previous year's approved allotment.
Delegate Patrick L. McDonough, Baltimore County Republican and honorary chairman of the petition drive, refuted the claim, saying the Dream Act should be considered a policy law because it does not set spending within the state budget and was not reviewed by the House Appropriations or Senate Budget and Taxation committees.
"They're issuing a frivolous lawsuit that has no real meaning to it," he said. "I don't think they have a leg to stand on there."
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