- Associated Press - Thursday, October 27, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — A conservative watchdog group announced Thursday it will aid in the legal defense of a petition drive against a Maryland law that would allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition under certain circumstances.

Paul Orfanedes, director of litigation for Judicial Watch, said the group’s request to help defend MDPetitions.com’s petition drive was recently granted by the court.

The group’s petition drive, which was led by Republican Delegates Neil Parrott and Patrick McDonough, was certified as successful by the state elections board. In July, The Maryland State Board of Elections validated 108,923 signatures collected in the petition drive. Opponents of the legislation needed 55,726 to put the measure on the November 2012 ballot. The law has been put on hold, pending the outcome of the legal case or the referendum.

However, attorneys for groups supporting the legislation have filed a lawsuit that challenges the certification of the petition drive. They say the legislation cannot be put to a referendum, because it provides government funding for education.

“It’s nothing like an appropriations bill,” Mr. Orfanedes said. “It has nothing to do with raising or spending funds. It’s an eligibility issue and it’s a benefit, so we disagree with that.”

Opponents of the law who want to see it put to a vote in November also are challenging some of the signatures, because a significant portion was gathered by using the Internet.

The legal case is being held in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. A hearing has been scheduled for January.

The legislation would allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges under certain conditions. First, a student must have attended a secondary school in Maryland for at least three years and have graduated from a high school in the state. Students also would have to show that either they or their parents have filed Maryland income tax returns annually for three years while they attended a high school in Maryland.

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