As Hurricane Sandy crawls through the Washington, DC area, and the kids clamor for yet another game of Who Shook Hook?, now seems as good a time as any to prepare a thoughtful post on the Maryland Dream Act. As a Washington DC resident, I don’t get a vote in Maryland even though, to paraphrase the former Alaskan governor, “I can see Maryland from my house.” Of course, that has never stooped us from having an opinion and I hope that all of my Maryland friends support Question 4, the so-called Maryland Dream Act next Tuesday.
The Maryland Dream Act, if passed, would allow certain undocumented youth resident in Maryland to pay in-state tuition at public universities and institutions in the state of Maryland. According to the Washington Post, “Under Maryland’s Dream Act, students who can prove that they have attended Maryland high schools for at least three years and that either they or their guardians have filed state taxes would be allowed to enroll at community colleges at in-state rates. Those who attain an associate’s degree or 60 credit hours could transfer to a four-year institution. At the University of Maryland, annual tuition is $7,175 for in-state students, compared with $25,554 for out-of-state students.” Obviously, the savings for undocumented youth is substantial.
The Maryland legislature passed the Maryland Dream Act in April 2011 and Governor O’Malley signed the bill. However, opponents gathered sufficient signatures to put the law to a referendum. That effort created Question 4 on the ballot next Tuesday.
Opponents believe that, by offering undocumented youth in-state tuition, more undocumented youth will attend public institutions, which will lead to fewer American citizens getting coveted spots at those universities. True enough- if this passes, more undocumented youth will attend public institutions and, yes, it is possible that some number of American citizens will get the limited slots for admission. It strikes me, however, as profoundly un-American to suggest that American citizens are bound to lose in any competition with undocumented youth. After all, they have been competing with them all their lives. These undocumented youth did not just spring out of Mexico. They grew up here, attended Maryland schools, pledged allegiance to our flag alongside their native born classmates, played on their soccer teams, and danced at their proms. Every step of the way, they competed with their classmates. This is something that every kid growing up in a multicultural Maryland is already used to.
Opponents seem to be scared of this competition. For all the rhetoric of free markets and competition, opponents favor stacking the deck. This belies a disturbing lack of confidence in American born students. What is truly remarkable about this is that young people overwhelmingly support the Maryland Dream Act. Those who have the most to lose, so to speak, support the Maryland Dream Act. This is because they know these undocumented youth and have attended school with them for several years. They are already used to their presence and see how their lives have been enriched and the competition has been upped. In America, we have always believed that competition is a good thing, that better competition leads to better results and, as usual, it is the kids who get this better than the adults.
There is also a moral dimension to the legislation. These kids came to the U.S. through no fault of their own. They have lived in our communities, attended our schools and have accepted the American Dream. Providing them with in-state tuition is a recognition that they are part of our lives and our communities. It is giving them the same rewards for their hard work and achievement that is provided to those who through random luck were born in the U.S.
Finally, the long-term economic benefits are clear. After these kids graduate from school, they will have better opportunities and better jobs. Some will start businesses, some will conduct ground breaking research. All will pay much more back in taxes than the tuition break they received.
The good news is that this message is winning. The latest Washington Post poll shows that Question 4 is likely to pass with over 58% of the electorate. This is not to say that anyone should be complacent. Opponents are determined. Some may remember that the presidential candidacy of Texas governor Rick Perry was already on the rocks even before his “oops” moment. Perry was destroyed in the primaries by his support for in-state tuition for undocumented youth in Texas. Mitt Romney accelerated his path to the nomination by labeling the Texas Dream Act an “inducement” to illegal immigration. Opposition to the Maryland Dream Act remains firm and committed and not to be underestimated.
If you live in Maryland, please vote for Question 4.