Dream Act opponents force vote next year

In-state tuition law for illegals at issue

Organizers of a petition against Maryland’s Dream Act collected enough valid signatures to force a November 2012 referendum on the issue, according to numbers released Thursday by the state Board of Elections.

Elections officials said Thursday afternoon that they have validated 63,118 signatures from voters who oppose the controversial law, which would allow in-state tuition rates for many illegal immigrants. Petitioners needed to collect just 55,736 valid signatures to suspend the law and force a statewide vote.

“This is a huge victory for the voters of Maryland,” said Delegate Neil C. Parrott, Western Maryland Republican, who led the petition drive. “When this goes to referendum, Marylanders will support our effort because it’s just a matter of common sense.”

Dream Act opponents began collecting signatures in late April — days after the General Assembly narrowly passed the law — and turned in more than 132,000 signatures by the June 30 deadline.

About 57,000 of those signatures were submitted May 31 to elections officials, while the other 75,000 were turned in June 30.

Officials last month validated 47,288 signatures from the May 31 batch, leaving petitioners just 8,448 short of their goal. Officials began reviewing the new batch this week, and approved nearly 16,000 more signatures by Thursday, pushing Dream Act opponents well past their goal.

Petitioners initially hoped to collect 100,000 signatures, but greatly exceeded their expectations thanks to a website that allowed residents to download petitions and support from across the political spectrum.

Elections officials said about 30 percent of the approved May 31 signatures came from registered Democrats.

While petitioners have met their goal, elections officials will continue reviewing the more than 56,000 remaining signatures. They have until July 22 to do so.

Petitioners could need the extra signatures, as Dream Act supporters are expected to challenge their efforts. The Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union last month threatened to sue over the legality of the petitioners’ website, while immigrant advocacy group CASA de Maryland has requested a copy of the signatures for its own review.

If petitioners overcome the challenges, theirs would be Maryland’s first successful petition to statewide referendum since 1992, when opponents of a law loosening restrictions on abortions forced a public vote but ultimately lost.

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