Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Case Against Maryland's DREAM Act

When the 2011 session of the Maryland General Assembly convened in January, it looked like the issue that would dominate the session, and the balance of the 2012 election cycle in Maryland, would be gay marriage.

Well, the legislative push to legalize same-sex marriage failed, and in-state tuition for illegal immigrants has replaced it as the marquee issue dominating the political landscape.

Organizers of a petition drive to repeal Maryland’s recently-passed DREAM Act have announced that they collected nearly 62,500 signatures – three times more than the amount needed to meet the first deadline.

Just to put things in perspective, in order to put the DREAM Act on the 2012 state ballot, petition organizers only needed to submit 55,736 signatures to the State Board of Elections by the end of June.

Petition organizers originally predicted they’d submit about 100,000 signatures by the June 30th deadline. Buoyed by the Internet, they now seem on track to shatter that goal.

As was the case with gay marriage, immigration is one of those issues generating a lot of emotion. That passion sometimes translates into hyperbolic claims.

Democratic State Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20), who supported the DREAM Act, noted that the, “Supreme Court held in 1982 that the states have a constitutional obligation to provide undocumented immigrant children with an equal public education.” Raskin, a law professor, fails to add that the case he cited only applies to K-12 education.

Predictably the state’s political and media establishment is solidly behind the DREAM Act.

Political supporters note that the young illegal immigrants who would benefit from the measure should not be blamed for the decisions of their parents, and that expanding education translates into long-term economic benefits for the state. "How do you calculate the advantage of someone getting a college education?" asked Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr.

Media supporters parrot the same points while questioning the motives of the law’s opponents.

In its May 11th editorial, the Washington Post ascribes opposition to the law to the fact that “many Republicans” believe that “illegal immigrants can and should be made to leave the country, and that federal, state and local governments can hasten that process by taking legislative and administrative steps that make life impossible for them.”

I, for one, do not feel that it is either desirable or feasible to simply round up 11 million illegal immigrants and deport them. But that really isn’t the point.  The real question is whether or not the DREAM Act is as fair to state taxpayers and students as it is to the illegal immigrants it serves.

In my view, the answer is no.

The version of the DREAM Act passed by the Maryland General Assembly and signed into law by Governor O’Malley establishes criteria which illegal immigrants must follow to qualify for in-state tuition benefits. This represents a tactical retreat on the part of the bill’s sponsors, who had advocated for legislation with fewer restrictions in the past.

In the end, they accepted the law’s provision requiring illegal immigrants to matriculate at community colleges first in order to bypass concerns that they would otherwise be competing with citizens for a finite number of admissions slots at the elite University of Maryland College Park. 

Anyone who has watched politics in Annapolis knows that laws passed in a watered down form to guarantee their passage are later quietly restored to their original provisions by their sponsors.

When state legislators passed the state’s seat belt law, it was crafted in a way to ensure that you could only be ticketed if police pulled you over for something else. But several years later, the law was revised to guarantee so-called “primary enforcement.”

Last year the legislature passed a law banned using wireless products while driving without a hands-free device. That law is also limited to so-called “secondary enforcement.” However, this year its legislative supporters began pushing for primary enforcement of the law.

I have no doubt that, eventually, they will get it. 

And, I have no doubt that liberal supporters of Maryland’s DREAM Act will achieve their long-stated goal of costly, unfettered, taxpayer-subsidized access to all the state’s colleges and universities for everyone regardless of their citizenship status – unless the citizens of Maryland intervene.

Speaking of cost, determining the exact budgetary impact of the law depends largely upon who you ask.

GOP Delegate Pat McDonough (R-7), a longtime activist on immigration-related issues, estimates the annual cost to taxpayers of the DREAM Act to be as high as $64 million. That certainly seems plausible, but I’d like to see McDonough’s numbers validated by a third party source before I am willing to accept their veracity.

In contrast, the state’s fiscal analysis estimated the law’s initial total cost to be about $6 million from FYs 14-16. That number factors in enrollment increases for only one school: Montgomery County Community College.

However, Casa of Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group which strongly supported the DREAM Act, estimates that students across the state will take advantage of the new law, potentially doubling or tripling its projected cost.

Indeed, the state’s Department of Legislative Services concedes that they “don’t have a very good grasp” of what the law’s cost ultimately will be.  Factor in a future attempt by the law’s legislative supporters to expand its scope, or an influx of illegal immigrants into Maryland from other states in order to take advantage of the new law, and the DREAM Act’s ultimate cost is anyone’s guess.

The law’s supporters couch the law’s necessity in terms of fairness. Opponents need to do the same thing.

Is it fair for Maryland citizens to bear the cost of another mandate imposed upon them from Annapolis during a time of budgetary limitations? Should they pick up the cost of tuition breaks for illegal immigrants while they are also being asked to pay higher taxes, fees and tolls? Is it fair to offer tuition breaks to illegal immigrants while there are citizens qualified to receive academic aid but have not because of budgetary cut?

Consider the hypothetical case of a student in West Virginia. Her outstanding academic record would make her a great addition to the University of Maryland College Park.  But, through no fault of her own, she happens to live in a state with a less prestigious public university. Is it really fair to make her pay the out-of-state tuition rate to go to UMCP?

The answer is: Yes, it is. And, it is equally fair to ask the state’s illegal immigrants to become citizens before they reap the benefits of Maryland residency.

I do not want to expel illegal immigrants. I want them to become citizens. Our national policy should be to get the illegal immigrants who are here quickly naturalized and (in cases where they are not) paying taxes, and to secure the borders using the best technology available.

For that to happen, the federal government needs to lead first. For states like Maryland to step in and liberally hand out amenities reserved for citizens in the meantime creates disincentives to naturalization while diluting traditional notions of what it means to be a citizen.

With respect to the DREAM Act, I think this is a rare instance of the state’s ruling Democratic establishment both overreaching and misinterpreting the mood of Maryland’s electorate. In its zeal to curry favor with Hispanic voters and Takoma Park-style liberals, they have succeeded in alienating everyone else.

If the DREAM Act makes it to the 2012 ballot, it will be overwhelmingly rejected by a broad, racially diverse cross-section of voters. In the meantime, I hope people on both sides of the issue can keep insults to a minimum.

We have an opportunity to lead a constructive national debate on an issue which Washington has repeatedly failed to address. Let’s take it.


  1. Well Said RC, my frustration is with my own children. Will my girls be able to compete and get into the limited spaces available ? And will they now have to have Affirmative Action and recruit an equal representation of Hispanics? It is extremely frustrating paying your fair share and having someone come in and take the services that you pay for, away.

  2. What if the stipulation for in-state tuition was that you would need to be actively applying for citizenship, and that attendance in college would help those efforts?

    We could kill two birds with one stone here.