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The law would require students to earn a Maryland high school diploma and spend the final three years of their high school education at a Maryland school. They or a guardian would also have to file a Maryland income-tax return each year during that span.

Such students would then have to start their coursework at a community college and sign affidavits promising to seek citizenship once they are eligible. If they graduate from community college, they would be able to get in-state tuition rates at a four-year school.

Dream Act students would not be counted against in-state enrollment quotas, which is expected to prevent them from taking the spots of legal resident in-state students.

“This is going to affect very small, talented, hard-working groups of students,” saidKristin Ford, communications director for Educating Maryland Kids. “They’re paying the same taxes, they’re going to the same high schools, they’re living in the same neighborhood. Let’s all make sure they pay the same in-state tuition rate.”

Dream Act supporters have backing from immigrant-advocacy groups, unions and many Democrats, and will likely outspend their competition, said Todd Eberly, coordinator of public policy studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

National immigration groups might stay out of the campaign, he said, to instead focus on presidential and congressional races that will more heavily influence national immigration policy.

While Dream Act supporters should have a fundraising edge, Mr. Eberly said opponents will have an emotional advantage as many residents are worried about the economy and may be reluctant to vote for a law that could add to tax bills and create more competition for future jobs.

He said President Obama’s recent executive action to protect many young illegal immigrants from deportation could also have mixed effects on how Maryland residents vote this fall.

The action, issued earlier this month, will allow many illegal immigrants younger than 30 and without criminal records to live and work without threat of deportation.

Qualified immigrants must have moved to the U.S. before age 16 and been here at least five years. They must also be high school graduates, current students or military veterans, and would be allowed to obtain renewable two-year work permits — providing an easier path from college to a career.

“In the eyes of some people, this sort of went beyond [Mr. Obama’s] responsibilities and beyond Congress,” Mr. Eberly said. “It could inspire some folks to come out and vote in support, but it’sprobably served as well to reignite some of the anger of those who are opposed.”