Undocumented immigrant students celebrated a big victory on Tuesday night, as voters approved the Maryland Dream Act.
The law will allow some students brought to the United States as children to pay in-state tuition at Maryland’s public colleges and universities.
The Baltimore Sun reported that Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, was celebrating along with students at a watch party at Arcos Mexican Restaurant in Fells Point.
“This is going to be a tremendous affirmation of the goodness of the people of the state,” the governor told the crowd.
Known as “Question 4,” the act was approved by a comfortable margin.
However, it differs from other states in that students must first attend community college at the in-state rate and then transfer to universities to receive the in-state benefit there. Other states with similar legislation don’t require students to attend community colleges to receive the benefit. The law should not be confused with the proposed federal Dream Act, which would provide a path to legal status and citizenship to undocumented college students.
While there are other states that offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students, Maryland is the first state where voters –rather than just legislators–approved such an initiative. The Maryland General Assembly approved the act last year, but it went to a vote because Republicans successfully petitioned to put the law on hold and place it on the ballot.
Both immigration and education were top issues for Latino voters heading into the election. Javier Mercado, 42, told The Washington Post that he supported the Dream Act legislation.
“It is another opportunity for the students that want to better themselves,” he said. “We can’t deny them an education.”
The Post noted that in-state tuition is $7,175 a year at the University of Maryland in College Park and out-of-state tuition is $25,554. University of Maryland president Wallace Loh supported passage of the law.
Students were also paying careful attention to the ballot initative, as the outcome could have a significant impact on their college aspirations and goals.
“This means so much to me, my parents and my family–who are the other dreamers,” high school senior Nathaly Uribe, who moved to the United States from Chile when she was just two years old, told The Baltimore Sun as she watched the election coverage. “This will give all of us a chance.”