- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

ANNAPOLIS In a demonstration of increasing political clout, about 300 Hispanics rallied Monday evening in front of the State House to support legislation they say will better serve their rapidly growing population.
Buses brought in Hispanics from Silver Spring, Gaithersburg, Baltimore and Towson for the Noche de Accion Latina (Night of Latin Action). A singer in a sombrero led songs. The crowd held signs and shouted bilingual chants. Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele said "Mi casa es su casa" (My house is your house) and called the rally the start of a new dialogue.
Ricardo Flores, president of the Maryland Latino Coalition for Justice, implored the supporters to seize the "historic moment" and fight for justice and equality.
"We have developed and organized our community to an extent that has never been done before," he said.
Two bills the coalition is promoting are geared to a community in which many have lived and worked in the United States for years sometimes decades without permanent residency status or citizenship.
One would ensure equal treatment of driver's license applicants who present internationally recognized foreign documents to attest to their age and identity. Supporters say it is needed to ensure that immigrants are legally licensed, understand the rules of the road and carry auto insurance.
The other would allow children who have grown up in Maryland to attend state universities and colleges at in-state tuition rates regardless of their present immigration status if they pledge to become U.S. citizens as soon as they can.
Under current law, undocumented immigrants pay the same tuition as out-of-state students. At the University of Maryland at College Park, for example, the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition is $9,202 a year. That makes the cost prohibitively high for many Hispanics, said coalition board member Kim Propeack.
"What that means is that most kids simply can't afford to go to school," she said. "They graduate K through 12 through the Maryland system and then just hit a total roadblock."
Like a law passed in 2001 in California, the bill would allow the immigrants to pay in-state tuition if the student attended a secondary school in Maryland for at least three years and received a diploma or equivalency degree. Similar legislation has been passed in Texas, New York and Utah.
Both bills are sponsored by the chairmen of the committees that are considering them, so they are virtually assured of reaching the floor of the House of Delegates.
According to 2000 census figures, the Hispanic population in Maryland jumped more than 82 percent in the last decade, to 228,000 people. Hispanics accounted for 4 percent of the state's population in 2000, up from 3 percent in the 1990 census.
After the 2002 elections, Maryland has its first two lawmakers of completely Hispanic ethnicity: Delegates Ana Sol Gutierrez of Montgomery County and Victor R. Ramirez of Prince George's County. Both are Democrats, and both were born in El Salvador. Miss Gutierrez says she knows of just one other Salvadoran elected to a state legislature a senator in California.
Miss Gutierrez was the nation's first Salvadoran to be elected to office when she was voted onto the Montgomery County school board in 1990. But now, she said Hispanics in Maryland have "kind of broken that ceiling of having one or two tokens" and are beginning to realize what they can achieve by being politically active.
"This is a community that has been under attack from all the bad immigration policies from years past," she said. "They've really struggled, so becoming a citizen is something that they really treasure."
Mr. Ramirez and Miss Gutierrez are trying to create a legislative caucus for lawmakers with Hispanic families including some who are married to Hispanics and those who represent a district that is at least one-10th Hispanic. There are currently just two caucuses one for blacks and one for women.
Salvadorans make up a large portion of Maryland's Hispanic community, along with Mexicans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Dominicans and Peruvians.
Montgomery County, with more than 100,000 Hispanics, and Prince George's County, with nearly 60,000, had the largest populations in that category in the state in 2000. But there also are significant populations in Baltimore and Baltimore County, and rapid growth on the Eastern Shore. In Wicomico County, Hispanic numbers tripled between 1990 and 2000, from 610 to 1,842.


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