- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Some members of the Montgomery CountyRepublicanCentral Committeeare disagreeing with their party chairman’s support for a bill that grants in-state college tuition rates to illegal immigrants.

Chairman Stephen N. Abrams has expressed support for the bill, though most Republican lawmakers voted against it during this year’s General Assembly session.

“We are going against our party by supporting this bill,” said committee member Steven Dirlik.

Mr. Abramssaid he was not speaking for the party, but expressing his personal views based upon his experience as a former county school board member.

“For those who challenge my view, there is an equal number who support it,” he said.

One such supporter is committee member Tom Reinheimer, who said he faced problems similar to those of immigrants when he adopted two girls from the Philippines.

Though he is a U.S. citizen and Maryland resident, his older daughter was going through a change-of-visa status when starting college and could not get in-state tuition rates.

“Many immigrants are regular people who are paying taxes, doing their jobs, and raising their kids here,” he said. “Some may be waiting to get their visa status adjusted. It is not always as simple as ‘They are illegal aliens and, therefore, we should charge out-of-state tuition.’”

However, committee member Robert Holdensaid he opposes giving illegal immigrants the same rights as citizens, because citizens have more legal obligations, such as jury duty and registering with the Selective Service System.

He said illegal immigrants could instead follow citizens by joining the armed forces to receive tuition discounts.

“A majority of those in the military are there because they want to go to college,” Mr. Holden said. “That avenue is available and many foreign folks are signing up, because it can also get them their citizenship faster.”

He also said Mr. Abrams is entitled to his point of view because the party encourages different opinions.

“We are not all of one mind,” he said. “We encourage discussion and diversity.”

According to the bill, applicants who attend a public or private high school for at least three years and graduate would qualify for the tuition break.

Students who qualify and attend the University of Maryland at College Park, for example, would pay around $9,000 less annually, based on this year’s tuition rates.

A spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said he is listening to both sides of the issue and has yet to take a position.

Maryland Republican Committee Chairman John Kane told The Washington Times that he also has not taken a position, despite reports from sources who say he supports the bill.

“My job as party chairman does not extend to influencing the governor’s decision,” he said.

However, Mr. Kane said he likes a bill amendment that extends the tuition break to the families of members of the armed forces. The amendment was inserted by Delegate Herbert McMillan, Anne Arundel Republican.

Mr. McMillan, who led House opposition to the bill, and Mr. Dirlik say they are not against legal immigrants.

“It should be encouraged for continuing diversity in our country,” said Mr. Dirlik, the son of an immigrant. However, he said supporting illegal aliens sends a “terrible message to law-abiding citizens.”

The bill has also drawn the opposition of such out-of-state groups as Survivors of 9/11 Coalition and the California-based Diversity Alliance for a Sustainable America.

Alliance Chairman Frank Morris, a former dean at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Affairs, urged Mr. Ehrlich to oppose the bill.

“The action by the Maryland legislature reflects an unfortunate reality,” he said this week in a written statement. “The reality is that at times of fiscal crisis, the legislators place the interests of illegal immigrants above the interests of U.S.-born citizens, especially minorities.”

The bill has also drawn some opposition from the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which passed a resolution last month asking the governor to delay signing the bill until its effect on minorities can be studied.

Michael Dye, chairman of the Annapolis Republican Central Committee, said he needed to know more about the bill, but his gut reaction is against it.

“It seems that there is a law being broken here,” he said.

Mr. Dye also said he has received several e-mails from constituents encouraging party officials to oppose the bill.

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