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New Deportation Policy Has Implications For DREAM Act Fight

Supporters and opponents of Maryland bill look ahead to November

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Supporters of the DREAM Act show their support outside the White House as President Obama announced that his administration will stop deporting younger illegal immigrants who came to the country as children.
Armando Trull
Supporters of the DREAM Act show their support outside the White House as President Obama announced that his administration will stop deporting younger illegal immigrants who came to the country as children.

Maryland voters are set to decide in November whether or not some undocumented students should get in-state tuition at Maryland colleges and universities. Now, supporters and opponents of the referendum on Maryland's DREAM Act are having to reconsider their strategies after a change in immigration policy announced last week by President Obama.

The Department of Homeland Security will no longer deport law-abiding undocumented immigrants under age 30, according to the policy change. 

For thousands of undocumented Maryland high school graduates, not having identification documents means they cannot qualify for in-state tuition at state universities — in spite of having lived in the state for many years. The Maryland DREAM Act — named for the federal bill of similar name and goals — was supposed to address this. But after opponents garnered more than 100,000 signatures to force a referendum, the students' future appeared to be in the hands of Maryland voters.

The June 15 announcement by President Obama changed that. These students now have an opportunity for personhood, says immigration attorney Anna Gallagher.

"These kids will get a work permit, they can then get a driver's license they can get a job they can go to school," Gallagher says. "So these are very practical things they can come out of the shadows." 

Being out of the shadows means many undocumented students may no longer need the Maryland DREAM Act to qualify for in-state tuition. In Maryland, students that have deferred deportation status are counted as in-state students for tuition purposes, according to Kim Propiak, with CASA de Maryland. CASA is an immigrants' rights group that helped pass the DREAM Act in Annapolis in 2011.

Opponents of Maryland's DREAM Act beg to differ.

"We'll have to see how this plays out in the courts," says Brad Botwin with Help Save Maryland, the group that gathered the signatures to place the DREAM ACT on a statewide referendum.

"I imagine there will be litigation to decide if, in fact, this will cover," Botwin says. "My discussions with other organizations indicate that this does not give them coverage for in-state tuition even if they are allowed to stay here." 

But Gallagher argues the President's authority is clear. 

"And the administration has done this in the past with groups of people," she says. "For example, during [Hurricane] Katrina, they granted deferred status to groups of students." 

The state's hands are somewhat tied by federal law when it comes to residency requirements, Propiak says. State Lawmakers can't force state colleges to change residency requirements to keep these students out, she adds. 

"There are some rights on a federal level about how states can set up these residency requirements in ways that don t discriminate," she says. 

The one thing Propiak and Botwin agree on is that both sides will continue the referendum fight. Propiak says the DREAM Act is still needed to cover those students who aren't protected under the new immigration policy; Botwin maintains voters have a right to decide if the measure becomes law.

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