Maryland Republican lawmaker Patrick L. McDonough said Thursday the General Assembly’s passage of the Dream Act, which allows in-state tuition for many illegal immigrants, has “awakened a sleeping giant in this state” and that he is now rallying forces to challenge its constitutionality.
Mr. McDonough, who already is involved in a lawsuit against Montgomery College over its offering in-state rates to illegal immigrants, is now meeting with national legal groups and activists to consider a suit against the legislation, which passed Monday in the Democrat-controlled assembly and is expected to be signed this month by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.
“People have just had enough,” said Mr. McDonough, a state delegate representing working-class sections of east Baltimore County and one of Maryland’s toughest illegal-immigration critics. Maryland has become a “Disneyland for illegal immigrants.”
The Dream Act allows in-state, community college tuition for college-age illegal immigrants, provided they have received a Maryland diploma, lived in the state for at least three years and that they or a guardian paid income tax each year during that span.
While federal law allows a free elementary and secondary education for all children, regardless of citizenship status, Mr. McDonough and other critics have argued the bill violates federal law by providing a privilege to illegal immigrants that is not allowed to all U.S. citizens.
A proposed federal Dream Act failed in Congress last year.
Maryland is now among 11 states - including California, New York and Texas - with legislation allowing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, though several states are considering repealing their laws.
In Kansas, GOP lawmakers are trying to repeal legislation granting such tuition benefits. The House has passed the measure in this year’s Legislature session and the Senate will likely decide when debates resumes April 29.
Mr. McDonough said that in addition to a lawsuit challenging the bill’s constitutionality, other suits could be filed against the state on behalf of taxpayers, out-of-state-residents and foreign nationals who are not granted in-state tuition.
Supporters of the Dream Act have most often defended it as providing an affordable education for children who succeed in American schools after being brought to the country, through no choice of their own, by their parents.
Mr. McDonough said he is also involved in a Maryland effort to seek a referendum on the issue.
Organizers would have to collect 55,736 valid signatures from Maryland voters by June 30, at least one-third of which would have to be submitted by May 31 to the state Board of Elections.
If the signatures are determined valid, the Dream Act would not go into effect and could not become law unless approved in a November 2012 vote.
Mr. McDonough said organizers are speaking with the state attorney general, who would have to approve language in their petition before any signatures are collected.
“There isn’t any question that the passion level and the anger level on this issue is significant,” he said. “Many, many people are going to want to sign this petition.”