The Washington Post

Students rally for Maryland Dream Act

Gustavo Torres, center, executive director of CASA, leads the way down University Boulevard to University of Maryland-College Park. (Eva Russo/TWP)

Teenagers pounded drumsticks on plastic buckets, women waved banners and a crowd shouted, “Undocumented and unafraid! Undocumented and unafraid!” before marching from Langley Park toward the University of Maryland on Saturday in support of lower tuition for illegal immigrants at state universities.

Last year, Maryland legislators narrowly passed the controversial Dream Act, which would grant the much lower in-state tuition rates to students meeting certain requirements, such as graduating from a Maryland high school, earning a certain number of credits from a local community college, and being admitted to a public university in the state. Their parents must have filed income taxes for at least a few years.

Opponents, some concerned about the potential cost to the state — which is unknown -- raised enough signatures to force a referendum on the November ballot.

“I want to be a doctor,” said Ines Piraino, 17, a senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, as she marched along with a few hundred other supporters in bright blue shirts. She has lived in the United States since she was 8 and her family left Chile, and she said they can’t possibly afford the more than $25,000 annual tuition that the University of Maryland, for example, charges out-of-state students. So she expects to go to a community college, unless voters approve the referendum that would allow students in her situation to pay the in-state rate — about $7,000 a year at U-Md.

At the rally, other students spoke in English and Spanish about being smuggled over the border by “coyotes” or their parents, their constant fear of deportation, and their dreams of becoming a reporter, a social worker, a bakery owner.

Activists hollered into bullhorns, “Si, se puede!” (“Yes, we can,”) and the crowd roared back.

University of Maryland University College President Javier Miyares told the crowd that he strongly supports them, along with the state university system.

Students, activists, parents and small children — some trying not to trip over the adult-sized blue “Vote for Question 4” T-shirts they were wearing — began marching and chanting. In Langley Park, apartment residents watched from balconies as a high-school band led the crowd through the neighborhood, tubas swaying, blue T-shirts tied around their heads.

Neighbor Gloria Young stopped while walking her dog. “I’m opposed to this,” she said. ”I’ve got two kids in college; I pay out of my own pocket.”

An activist told her that the immigrant families would, too, but at the lower in-state rate. After more questions, Young said, “Well, that’s fair then.”

Young was still thinking about it as the crowd moved past. As a single parent, with a son at Montgomery College and one at Morehouse College, she finds it difficult to pay for their educations. Many people she knows don’t like the “Dream Act,” she said, as the marchers stepped onto University Boulevard, headed for the University of Maryland. “You get tired of the government spending so much. That’s why we’re in so much debt.”

Susan Svrluga is a reporter for the Washington Post, covering higher education for the Grade Point blog.

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