Voters may get to decide on Maryland Dream Act

Voters might get the final say on whether immigrant students who live in the state illegally, but have graduated high school and paid taxes, would receive in-state tuition at Maryland's colleges.

Opponents of a new Maryland law granting in-state tuition rates to immigrant students living in the state illegally said they submitted a portion of the number of signatures required to put the issue on the ballot on Tuesday.

Led by Washington County Republican Delegate Neil Parrott, opponents of the new law had to give the secretary of state at least 18,579 valid signatures Tuesday. That's one-third of the nearly 56,000 signatures they must collect by the end of June to bring the issue to a referendum next year.

“We've exceeded our goal. We're very, very thankful for that and it’s because of the hard work and diligence of people all across the state of Maryland,” Parrott said.

For months this spring, the debate about the issue raged in the Maryland legislature. A compromise was eventually reached and signed by the Governor. It grants a discounted in-state tuition rate at state schools, including College Park, to illegal immigrants who can prove their parents have paid taxes for three years and who first attend two years of community college.

For high school student Anngie Gutierrez, the Dream Act is a dream come true. She was brought to Virginia from Guatemala as a small child and lives in the U.S. illegally. She's also a straight-A student at Bladensburg High School. “Now I have a chance,” Gutierrez said.

University of Maryland student Andy Stiles believes in affordable higher education, but not for immigrants here illegally. “It should be overturned. To get in-state tuition they should be citizens,” Stiles said about the Maryland Dream Act.

Republican Delegate Neil Parrott says the Dream Act is a nightmare. “One, it costs too much money, and the second thing is we have federal immigration laws that are in place and we need to enforce those immigration laws,” Parrott said.

Since April, Parrott, who's from Hagerstown, has been gathering signatures on a petition to stop the Dream Act and put the issue in font of voters on a referendum.

The signatures don't count until the state Board of Elections has validated them, for which it has until June 20. It plans to start posting progress reports on its website Friday.