Maryland voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that makes undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in what was the nation’s first-ever test of a so-called Dream Act at the ballot box.
The statewide vote on Question 4 ratifies the 2011 Maryland Dream Act, which sought to lower the barrier to higher education for undocumented students who, among other conditions, must attend high school in the state for at least three years and who either filed state incomes taxes themselves or whose parents or guardians did.
Though the law is considered to have some of the most stringent conditions for eligibility of any of the 12 other states’ Dream Acts, opponents of the legislation collected enough signatures to put the matter before voters in a referendum on whether to keep the law or repeal it.
But 58 percent of state voters last week voted to uphold the law in what advocates and educators viewed as a major victory for Maryland students who lack legal immigration status in the United States.
The state’s top Democratic leaders, including Gov. Martin O’Malley, and university officials such as Wallace D. Loh, the president of the University of Maryland, were high-profile supporters of the law. Maryland’s law first requires undocumented students to attend community college as a condition for receiving in-state tuition. California’s law, for example, extends eligibility for state financial aid to qualified undocumented students.
Similar federal legislation, also known as the DREAM Act—which stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors—has been stalled in Congress for years. That deadlock, in part, prompted President Barack Obama earlier this year to order federal immigration authorities to halt deportations of qualified undocumented immigrants younger than 30 and allow them to seek legal work permits.
Called “deferred action,” that federal policy falls well short of providing the path to citizenship as proposed in the federal DREAM Act legislation. President Obama’s re-election ensures that the deferred-action policy is likely to remain in place.
A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 2012 edition of Education Week as Md. Voters Ratify In-State Tuition Path for the Undocumented