Opponents of a new Maryland law to give undocumented immigrants in-state college tuition breaks said they turned in more than twice as many signatures as needed on Thursday night to suspend the law and to force it to a statewide referendum.
The Maryland State Board of Elections now has until July 22 to certify the signatures, but it is likely the opponents will know before then whether they have succeeded. Elections officials plan to begin daily updates on the board’s Web site with the tally as it progresses.
The opponents need at least 55,736 signatures, or 3 percent of those who cast ballots in the last statewide election, to push the measure to a vote in November 2012. The board has already certified 47,288 signatures, or more than four out of five of those that opponents turned in last month. In addition, 74,980 signatures were turned in on Thursday.
Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington) and Del. Pat McDonough (R-Baltimore), who led the signature-gathering effort, cast their haul as a success for Marylanders who care about enforcing immigration laws and predicted the state’s voters would reject the controversial measure.
Hours earlier, proponents staged their own event in Baltimore, saying those trying to defeat the law had “spread misinformation and hate” about the measure.
“The efforts to revoke the Maryland DREAM Act are not only mean-spirited, they are also interlaced with an unspoken and yet deeply rooted racism that seeks to have Maryland move backwards rather than forwards,” said Rev. Paul Johnson, a clergy leader from Maryland Industrial Areas Foundation, a coalition of faith-based groups that supports the in-state tuition breaks for undocumented immigrants.
The Maryland Catholic Conference also said it launched a taskforce to begin educating the state’s Catholic congregations about why the tuition law “deserves their support.”
“Legitimate concerns over illegal immigration cannot be solved by denying the needs of children,” the group said in a statement.
Under the law, students who can prove that they have attended Maryland high schools for at least three years and that their parents or guardians have begun paying taxes would be allowed to begin courses this fall at community colleges at in-state rates.
Those who go on to earn an associate’s degree could transfer to a four-year institution at in-state rates. At the University of Maryland, tuition last year was $8,415 for in-state students, compared with $24,830 for out-of-state students.