Md. Senate weighs bill to give in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants

Carlos Berrios, 17, left, and Elsy Lopez, 15, both of Glen Burnie, waved handmade signs at a rally in Annapolis on Monday. Students and others gathered in support of the legislative proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates.
Carlos Berrios, 17, left, and Elsy Lopez, 15, both of Glen Burnie, waved handmade signs at a rally in Annapolis on Monday. Students and others gathered in support of the legislative proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates. (Sarah L. Voisin)

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2011

Giving undocumented immigrants in-state tuition benefits at Maryland colleges would violate federal law, send the wrong message to law-abiding immigrants and be unfair to taxpayers, state legislators opposed to the measure said Wednesday.

Opponents of the controversial legislation appeared outgunned in the Senate but vowed to fight on. A vote on the measure may come as early as Monday, after proponents crossed a procedural threshold late Wednesday evening.

"This is the most flawed piece of public policy I have ever, ever seen," said Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County).

Proponents said it makes moral and practical sense to allow undocumented immigrants who attended Maryland high schools to pay the same tuition as their high school classmates who are legal residents or citizens.

The Supreme Court ruled decades ago that all children are entitled to a high school education up to the 12th grade, regardless of their legal status. Proponents want to make Maryland's colleges just as accessible, said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's).

The debate was especially emotional because of the group at its epicenter: undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children.

Paul, 18, an Annapolis High School senior who did not give his last name because of his undocumented status, came with his mother from El Salvador, crossing the border illegally.

"I did not have a choice," he said.

Now a standout student who is applying to Yale University and other Ivy League schools, Paul said outside the Senate chamber that he is hoping to be eligible for in-state tuition benefits at Maryland colleges and financial aid at the other schools. He said dozens of his classmates are undocumented immigrants.

The discussion on the Senate floor was marked by acrimony. When Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) called at one point for polite debate, Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford) said, "That's not going to happen!"

Proponents and opponents characterized one another as out of touch.

Jacobs demanded to know how Maryland could in good faith offer foreigners who had broken federal immigration laws in-state tuition benefits, while giving foreigners on legal student visas at the same schools a tuition bill three times higher.


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