A fight is brewing in Maryland over allowing illegal immigrants to pay reduced in-state tuition as Montgomery and Prince George's senators introduce bills that others are trying to kill.

Both state Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Wheaton, and Senator-elect Victor Ramirez, D-Cheverly, plan to file bills that would allow illegal immigrants who graduated from Maryland high schools and whose parents or guardians pay taxes to receive the in-state rate of $8,416. Currently, undocumented students admitted to the public University of Maryland system pay out-of-state tuition of $24,831.

States take over for Congress
The Dream Act, a bill that would have enabled children of parents whom illegally brought them to the U.S. become citizens, failed earlier this month in the Senate, and is effectively off the table. The bill's shuttering provided the impetus for state-level proposals, but can they pass where the Dream Act failed?
"The failure reflects a lot of political anxiety about doing anything to help anyone who's undocumented, even if they're children and young people," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Silver Spring,, who is also a lawyer. "On the other hand, the failure of the Dream Act has infused local and state groups with a determination to create space for these people to achieve."
So can these Maryland bills pass? "It will be a lively controversy in the General Assembly." - Lisa Gartner

"We're long past the time to pass this," said Madaleno, pointing to the state's large immigrant population. "We have young people who through no action on their part have been brought to this country; if they have succeeded to the point that they're able to gain admission to one of these four-year institutions, it makes sense to give these students an affordable rate."

The bill passed both houses in the General Assembly in 2003 but was vetoed by Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich. In 2007, a similar bill passed in the House but was rejected in the Senate.

Immigration has been on the rise in the Maryland suburbs, with the number of Hispanic students in Montgomery County nearly tripling since 1992 and now comprising 23 percent of the K-12 public school system. In Prince George's County, the Hispanic student population has jumped five-fold to 20 percent of the public school district.

"We can't continue to put our heads in the sand and pretend we do not have qualified and capable students that unfortunately fall into this [illegal] category," Ramirez said.

But to other legislators, it's not a matter of academic ability.

Del. Pat McDonough, R-Baltimore Co., says he will "lead the fight" against any bills to reduce tuition for undocumented students.

"They shouldn't be here, whether it's their fault or not, and they shouldn't receive a benefit for being here," said McDonough, estimating that $990 million is spent educating illegal students in the K-12 system. "In a state with a budget problem, that's not supposed to happen."

Del. Tom Hucker, D-Silver Spring, who supports the in-state tuition bill, said most affected residents in Montgomery and Prince George's counties want to extend affordable education to their neighbors.

"We have thousands of Maryland students who have worked hard and stayed out of trouble and done exactly what we asked them to do," Hucker said. "It doesn't make sense to invest in them on the high school level and then erect a barrier to them continuing to higher education."