Times of economic duress have traditionally fed such anti-immigration fervor in America, in the past directed at Irish, Italians, Chinese and others seen as outsiders. Maryland’s jobless rate of 6.8 percent, while much lower than the national average, remains almost double its level before the recession. In the Free State, as elsewhere, many Americans worry that any government benefits extended to undocumented immigrants may somehow result in a zero-sum calculus, depriving financially stressed citizens of assistance to which they are rightfully entitled.
The concerns about Maryland’s Dream Act are understandable; they’re also misplaced. They fail to recognize that the law is overwhelmingly in the state’s interest. Implement it, and thousands of ambitious, promising youngsters who have grown up in Maryland will have a chance to realize their potential as productive, taxpaying members of society. Repeal it, and those same youngsters will swell the ranks of the underclass, paying less in taxes, consuming more in services and living lives soured by the frustration of unrealized potential.
The demographic targeted by the Dream Act consists largely of teenagers who were brought by their parents to the United States, often as young children. Many have relatives who are citizens. They have grown up speaking English and are loyal to their adoptive country, attending and graduating from high school and regarding themselves as American in most or every way.
Their undocumented status is not their fault, and there is no precedent in American history for punishing children for the actions of their parents. Having invested, in some cases, $200,000 in state, local and federal funds into educating undocumented students from kindergarten through high school, why would Maryland want to cut short their development by putting college out of their reach?
Unfortunately, that is the reality now. Undocumented immigrants seeking to attend the University of Maryland at College Park in the academic year starting in September would be required to pay the out-of-state rate of $26,026 in tuition and fees. Even if they have attended Maryland public schools all their lives — even if they are straight-A students, debating champions or star athletes — they are ineligible for the in-state rate of $8,655.