Friday, 08 July 2011 20:57

Supporters of Tuition Petition: Campaign Will Continue

Written by  By Nicholas C. Stern, Frederick News-Post
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Supporters of a successful petition to overturn a law granting in-state college tuition to some undocumented immigrants say they will continue their campaign until the measure appears on the ballot in November 2012.

The new law would allow students who have attended at least three years of Maryland high school and can show they or their parents have filed tax returns to qualify for in-state tuition at community colleges,  even if they are in the country illegally.

The petition drive stopped it from taking effect at the beginning of the month.

"This is a real victory for Marylanders across the state," said Republican Delegate Neil Parrott, leader of the petition drive.

The Maryland State Board of Elections has unofficially certified 63,118 petition signatures, exceeding the 55,736 signatures needed to bring the measure before voters, Parrott said Friday.

The last successful petition in the state occurred in 1992, when voters approved a bill guaranteeing abortion rights in Maryland.

Parrott said about 132,000 signatures had been submitted to the board and that he expected the total number of validated signatures to be more than 95,000.  He also said about 30 percent of the signers were Democrats and 15 percent were unaffiliated voters.

Parrott said the law would cost too much money -- potentially millions of dollars -- and flouts the nation's immigration laws.

"This bill tries to skirt around the law and make the state more of a sanctuary state than it is," he said.

Kim Propeack, political director for immigrant advocacy group and petition opponent CASA de Maryland,  said the group is still waiting for copies of original May and June signatures from the state board of elections.

She said CASA believes the board has erred on a number of signature validations and hopes to receive the data before a July 30 deadline to argue before a judge about the errors.

Regardless, those who have signed the petition are a minority of voters, she said.

Propeack said that CASA and a number of other groups are also planning to educate state voters about the law.

Guy Djoken, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said he advocated for the original bill and will continue to do so.

While it's true the economy is not good and there are not enough resources, not educating these children may lead to an even larger expense, he said.

Many of the children affected by this bill did not choose to be in the country either way, he said.

"When we don't educate people, we are shooting ourselves in the foot," Djoken said.

Jorge Ribas, president of the Mid-Atlantic Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said while the chamber does not take an official position on the bill, he personally believed the matter should be decided with a comprehensive, federal immigration law that includes a path to citizenship for immigrant workers.

"This is not an issue to be decided by a mob; this is an issue to be decided by thoughtful people," he said.

Illegal immigration should not be tolerated and is potentially dangerous, he said, yet the labor these immigrants provide has been accepted and even solicited by businesses and industries in the country for generations.

Ribas said during trips throughout Latin America, he has seen many advertisements asking people to come and work various service jobs in Maryland.

"We need to stop being hypocrites and we need to start being citizens of the world," he said, citing the
country's future need for a more educated workforce.

Regardless, Ribas said, "The data does not support that Hispanic students, or those that would apply to the Dream (Act) category, are gong to flood our classrooms at the college level."

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