Impassioned speeches echoed throughout Hopkins Plaza outside the Fallon Federal Building — the monolithic structure that houses the local office of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. In Spanish and English, the speakers told their stories. Brought to the United States as children — some before their second birthday – they settled into their American life. One young woman, a senior at an Anne Arundel County high school, recalled her childhood in the States, including sleeping in public parks with her mother after work was done for the day.
Despite the disadvantages faced by this young woman (child), she pushed through and is set to graduate from a Maryland public high school. She wants to pursue a career in the sciences focusing on genetics. Luckily, Maryland is the site of academic institutions, the National Institutes of Health and privately-funded corporations that research genetics for the betterment of all. Who wouldn’t want a young scientist to receive an education in Maryland; to live in Maryland; to pay taxes and contribute to our society?
This young woman simply needs to combine her ambitions with the opportunities available right here in Maryland – award-winning public higher education and a built-in science and technology job market. Of course, her dream of a career in the sciences faces a serious hurdle that others in her graduating class do not – she is undocumented. In her words, she is “undocumented and unafraid.”
I wish I shared her lack of fear for her future. I fear her dreams of further education and a career in science will elude her. You see, undocumented students are required to pay out-of-state tuition rates at Maryland’s public, higher education institutions. However, our legislature passed the Maryland DREAM Act, which simply gives deserving students, like those at the rally in Hopkins Plaza, a chance at a college education by paying in-state tuition rates. Whether the Maryland DREAM Act is implemented and gives the young woman from Anne Arundel County and others like her the opportunity of affordable college education has been put up for a referendum vote in November.
So, there I sat in Hopkins Plaza, listening to a Latino student rally and feeling at once both connected to their cause and far-removed from their struggle. I never had to question whether I would go to college. Indeed, along with my parents, no one was more supportive of my college career than my maternal grandfather.
Born in the Dominican Republic, my grandfather was an immigrant to this country. Through a series of random events (luck) or, if you are so inclined, the guidance of a higher power, he came to this country as a citizen. His father was a United States Marine, who was training forces in the Dominican Republic when he met my great grandmother. I knew her as a spitfire in her 80’s and 90’s but even then at an advanced age, one could see the beautiful, Latin woman of her youth.
Her son, my grandfather, excelled when given the opportunity. He worked on his family’s small farm, dug roads in the middle of nowhere Virginia and joined the Marine Corps – serving in World War II and the Korean War before retiring as an officer. He settled down in Baltimore and rose through the ranks of the construction industry. He eventually founded his own company and went on to build one of the first modern buildings in the Inner Harbor.
Sitting in Hopkins Plaza at a DREAM Act rally just a few blocks away from the building that serves as my daily reminder of my grandfather’s determination, I watched the speeches given by Maryland high school students with a there-but-for-the-grace-go-I feeling and with the knowledge that I would soon return to my office in the Inner Harbor.
While my personal experiences may inform my support of the Maryland DREAM Act, that is only part of the story.
As an attorney, I synthesize facts and the law to form arguments that I hope will be persuasive to my audience. Contrast that approach with those wishing to overturn the Act by playing on fear. They are light on the facts and the law.
The Maryland DREAM Act contains strict requirements that will ensure that the State is not providing in-state tuition to recent Maryland residents without a history of paying taxes to the State. Our legislature passed a version of the DREAM Act that recognized the fundamental fairness of providing our young people with an affordable education and the reality that tax coffers do not fill themselves. The fundamental fairness of the DREAM Act has been espoused by Governor Rick Perry of Texas, a recent candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination, who, in discussing the Texas DREAM Act, told the New Hampshire Union Leader in June 2011 that “[t]o punish these young Texans for their parents’ actions is not what America has always been about.”
The Maryland DREAM Act, codified in the Education Article of the Maryland Code at Section 15-106.8, allows undocumented students to pay in-county tuition at community colleges in our State. The students may only receive in-county tuition if they register at community colleges within four years of receiving their Maryland high school diploma or equivalent and meet the following requirements:
a) Attend a Maryland high school for three years (Sec. 15-106.8(B)(1));
b) Graduate or receive an equivalent of a diploma from a Maryland high school (Sec. 15-106.8(B)(2));
c) Prove that their parents or guardians paid Maryland income taxes by providing documentation to the community college that their parents or legal guardians filed Maryland income tax returns for the three years that the student attended the Maryland high school and for all years that they attend the community college (Sec. 15-106.8(B)(4));
d) Swear to receive proper documentation as soon as eligible – The student must provide an affidavit that they will file an application for permanent residency within 30 days of their eligibility to do so (Sec. 15-106.8(B)(5)); and
e) Register for Selective Service (for male students) (Sec. 15-106.8(B)(6)).
After a student receives an associates’ degree or receives 60 credit hours from a community college, they become eligible for in-state tuition at a four-year Maryland university. (Sec. 15-106.8(C)). While the students are eligible for in-state tuition at that point, they, according to law, “may not be counted as in-state student for the purposes of determining the number of Maryland undergraduate students enrolled” at the public university. (Sec. 15-106.8(H)).
The law is not a giveaway to illegal immigrants, despite what some may shout. The law ensures that eligible students will not push aside or get preference over Maryland citizen-students. The Maryland DREAM Act simply allows all children of Maryland taxpayers to be eligible for in-state tuition. The undocumented student must prove herself by attending a community college and then must compete with non-Maryland students for a spot at a public Maryland four-year university. The DREAM Act students who make it to that point must then pay the full freight in-state tuition regardless of their economic background.
After meeting these strict requirements and receiving a college education in Maryland, the DREAM Act students will have the academic tools necessary to produce bio-genetic breakthroughs or design and construct the next skyscraper in Baltimore for lawyers, bankers and insurance company executives to occupy.
— Matthew T. Vocci