Democratic lawmakers in the Maryland House picked up support Tuesday for a measure that would allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition breaks at the state’s colleges and universities.
Legislators amended the bill to address concerns among fellow Democrats about competition for a limited number of in-state slots at Maryland’s four-year institutions.
With the changes, the House Ways and Means Committee approved the bill on a 14-to-7 vote, sending the measure to the House floor. Under the amendment, undocumented students would not be counted as in-state students in the formula used to determine the total number of available spaces.
“I think it smoothes the way for passage,” said Del. Justin Ross (D-Prince George’s). “As amended, you can’t say it’s taking a seat from a Marylander.”
Ross said he was uncertain whether the measure has the votes to pass the full House, but said he was “cautiously optimistic.” Del. Jon S. Cardin (D-Baltimore County), for instance, said he was still undecided and abstained from voting during the committee session in part because of the estimated cost of allowing more students to pay the lower in-state tuition rate.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George’s), passed the Senate last month.
The bill allows Maryland high school graduates, regardless of immigration status, to pay the in-state tuition rate at the state’s community colleges. Those who receive an associate’s degree could transfer to one of the state’s four-year institutions at the in-state rate.
During the committee debate Tuesday, supporters said immigrant students -- many who arrived in the U.S. at a young age -- should not be punished for the decisions of their parents, and should not have to pay the higher out-of-state rate.
“It’s not a hand out. . . We’re not making it free,” said Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery).
Opponents questioned the return on the state’s investment if the students are unable to legally work in the United States after graduation.
Seated in the audience of the committee hearing room Tuesday was Gustavo Torres, the head of Casa of Maryland, one of the leading advocates for the measure. After the vote, Torres embraced and thanked the committee chairwoman Del. Sheila Hixson (D-Montgomery).