- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — The House of Delegates voted yesterday to provide in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants, but only if they have graduated from Maryland high schools, can prove their family has paid state taxes and intend to become U.S. citizens.

The bill was approved on an 88-53 roll call, 17 votes more than required for passage, after a long and sometimes contentious debate about whether the proposed law would condone illegal behavior or reward the hard work of young people who arrived in this country illegally through no fault of their own.

The bill now goes to the Senate with 17 days left in the 2004 General Assembly session. The Democrat-controlled legislature passed similar legislation last year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

If it is passed again and signed by the governor, students who are not citizens would be eligible for in-state tuition rates if they have attended public school in Maryland for at least three years.

They would have to provide proof that they or their parents or guardians have paid state income taxes. They would also have to sign an affidavit that they intend to file for citizenship within 30 days of becoming eligible to be a U.S. citizen.

Supporters of the bill said students who meet those conditions and qualify academically should be able to attend Maryland colleges without paying higher out-of-state tuition.

“Illegal behavior may be on the part of the parents. It is certainly not on the part of the students,” said Delegate Sheila E. Hixson, Montgomery County Democrat and chief sponsor of the bill. “What we are doing is making [tuition] fair.”

Supporters said the law is needed to help students who were brought to this country as children, have lived and gone to school in Maryland but who are not yet eligible to apply for citizenship.

But Delegate Herbert McMillan, Anne Arundel County Republican, said with the intense competition to get into the University of Maryland, illegal immigrants would fill some slots that could otherwise go to Maryland students who are citizens.

“Our first responsibility is to our constituents. Put your own people first,” he said.

While Republicans voted almost solidly against the bill, Delegate Jean B. Cryor, Montgomery County Republican, spoke in favor of it, noting that Republican governors such as Jeb Bush in Florida, Rick Perry in Texas and George E. Pataki in New York support similar laws.

Mr. Ehrlich said a year ago that his decision to veto the bill was a difficult one and that he would work with sponsors to “generate a bill we can support” at the 2004 session.

Shareese DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for the governor, said he has not yet announced what he will do with the bill if it reaches his desk.

The tuition bill has been a top priority of Hispanic groups, and Miss Hixson said she hopes Hispanic Republicans of Maryland, an affiliate of the state Republican Party, would lobby the governor to sign the bill.

Luis Borunda, chairman of Hispanic Republicans of Maryland, said the group has not yet taken a position.

“We have not seen the bill as it passed the House yet. We’ll take a look at it, and we’ll make a recommendation to the governor when we have studied it a little,” he said.

Jorge Ribas, chairman of the rival Hispanic Republican Caucus of Maryland, said his organization is “hopeful that the governor this time around will sign the bill. We are urging him to do so.”

The Hispanic Republican Caucus was originally affiliated with the state Republican Party, but was kicked out in favor of Mr. Borunda’s group after Mr. Ribas and other members criticized Mr. Ehrlich for not appointing Latinos to top positions in state government.

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