A controversial Maryland ballot initiative to allow in-state tuition for some illegal immigrants passed Tuesday night after a heated campaign.
The Dream Act, which was petitioned to referendum after being narrowly passed by the General Assembly last year, had garnered 57.7 percent support against 42.3 percent opposed with about two-thirds of precincts reporting when Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley issued a statement acknowledging its passage.
"Marylanders — guided by our belief in the dignity of every individual — have chosen to make the dream of a college education a reality for every child. In order to expand opportunity, we've chosen to hold down the costs of college tuition for Maryland families more than any other state," Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, said.
Although more than 108,000 registered voters signed petitions forcing the question to be decided at the ballot box, supporters of the Dream Act said early on Tuesday that they felt the act would pass.
"We had nearly 600 volunteers that were out across the state," said Kristin Ford, spokeswoman for Educating Maryland Kids, which supports passage of the Dream Act. "What we've been hearing is very positive results from the polls."
The Dream Act would allow in-state, community college tuition for college-aged illegal immigrants, provided they have received a Maryland high school diploma, lived in the state for at least three years, and that they or a guardian paid income tax each year during that span. The initiative is one of seven questions proposed to Maryland voters this year. Its passage makes Maryland the 12th state to enact some form of tuition benefits for students brought into the country illegally as children.
Supporters have cheered the Dream Act as a way to provide equal access to education by children brought to the United States by their parents. Opponents deride it as an initiative that could take college opportunities away from legal citizens by creating more competition for in-state tuition seats.
Watching the election returns from his home in Rockville, Brad Botwin, director of Help Save Maryland — which helped organize last year's petition effort to get the Dream Act on the ballot — said he thinks immigration issues are of great concern to residents given the current economic slump.
"This is an economic issue. We don't have funds to do this," Mr. Botwin said. "People are portraying this as these poor students. These students can still go to college."
Illegal immigrants can attend Maryland colleges now but must pay higher out-of-state tuition rates.
In Prince George's County, which has seen a burgeoning Hispanic population over the past decade, politicians recently stumped for the Dream Act at Prince George's Community College and the University of Maryland, College Park.
Despite local political support, some county residents such as Seat Pleasant Councilman Reveral Yeargin remained opposed to the act.
As he handed out campaign fliers at Central High School in Capitol Heights on Tuesday, Mr. Yeargin, 50, reasoned that while "you deserve to go to college, taxpayers don't deserve to have to pay for you to go to college."
A recent study concluded that passage of the Dream Act would actually bring more money into the state rather than increase the burden on taxpayers.
Published in October, a study by the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, found that the act would generate as much as $66 million a year for the state and businesses by providing better access to education for illegal immigrants, which would in turn help them to secure higher-paying jobs and pay more taxes.
Initially, the act would cost the state and its counties a combined $7.2 million a year, but they would eventually earn back $24.6 million in tax benefits and savings, the study said. Additionally, private businesses would eventually earn $42 million in annual benefits from a larger, better-educated workforce.
According to the analysis, 435 students would attend college each year under the law, with most attending community colleges and just 102 studying at the state's four-year universities.
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