Dream Act petitioners boasting 100,000 signatures

ANNAPOLIS — Organizers of a petition against Maryland’s Dream Act said Thursday they have collected more than 100,000 signatures — nearly double the amount needed to force a November 2012 referendum on the law.

Opponents of the law, which would allow many illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates, had until Thursday night to turn in at least 55,736 valid voter signatures to suspend the law until a 2012 statewide vote.

Organizers already turned in nearly 58,000 signatures on May 31, 47,288 of which were validated and approved by the state Board of Elections.

Delegate Neil C. Parrott, Washington Republican, who has led the petition effort, said he expected to turn in more than 42,000 more Thursday night - only 8,448 of which will have to be validated for organizers to reach their goal.

“People worked extra hard on this. This is a total grass-roots effort,” Mr. Parrott said. “This is important to people because they know Maryland is spending too much money, and we can’t afford this.”

The Dream Act narrowly passed the General Assembly in April, and while Republican legislators have been its most vocal critics, they have received support from across the political spectrum.

Legislators including Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat, and Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., Baltimore Democrat, have endorsed the petition. According to elections officials, more than 30 percent of signatures approved thus far have come from registered Democrats.

The Dream Act law has garnered support from many Democrats and organizations, including the immigrant-advocacy group CASA de Maryland and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Both groups said they are considering possible challenges to the petition drive. CASA de Maryland has requested a copy of all the petitions’ signatures for review, while the ACLU of Maryland has said it might sue over petitioners’ use of a website that allowed residents to download and distribute their own copies of the petition — a service that ACLU officials argue violated state laws by automatically filling in certain personal information for users.

About 17,000 of the 47,288 signatures approved thus far came from petitions printed at the website, mdpetitions.com.

Linda H. Lamone, the state administrator of elections, said that if a court were to invalidate the online signatures, elections officials would most likely adjust their count to include remaining valid signatures rather than invalidate the entire petition effort.

Mr. Parrott said a pair of national conservative legal groups - Judicial Watch and the National Legal Foundation - have offered to provide pro bono representation for the petitioners should any legal challenges arise.

State and local elections officials have until July 22 to review the petitions’ remaining signatures. Miss Lamone said Thursday afternoon that elections officials and the state attorney general were still discussing whether they must review all of the signatures, or stop after 55,736 are deemed valid.

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