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'Fairness' At Heart Of Debate Over Maryland's DREAM Act

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A Maryland DREAM Act supporter attends a hearing on the bill in Annapolis in 2011. The law will finally come to a statewide vote at the polls in November.
Elliott Francis
A Maryland DREAM Act supporter attends a hearing on the bill in Annapolis in 2011. The law will finally come to a statewide vote at the polls in November.

This is the second part of a weeklong series looking at the many ballot questions facing Maryland voters. The first in the series looked at the high-stakes advertising war over Question 7, on whether to expand gambling in the state.

Voters in Maryland next month will vote on whether to uphold the General Assembly's passage of the DREAM Act, which allows some undocumented immigrant students to receive in-state tuition rates on public colleges and universities in the state.

For both sides, the issue of the DREAM Act — which was passed in June 2011 — comes down to one thing. 

"For us, it is simple matter of fairness," says Mark McLaurin with the Service Employees International Union Local 500 in Montgomery County, which is part of a broad coalition that supports the DREAM Act and wants voters to uphold it. "On what basis do you treat two kids who graduated from Thomas Wooton High School differently?

"Kids that have sat next to each other in class for 11, 12, 13 years, that live here and have always called here home," McLaurin continues. "Once they graduate, they should have equal opportunity to attend Maryland's colleges and universities."

Those who wish to see the DREAM Act defeated also see fairness at issue, but in a completely different way.

"I am talking fairness for Maryland taxpayers. We just had an income tax increase, tolls, bag taxes, and this is icing on the cake," says Brad Botwin with Help Save Maryland, a group that opposes the law and helped collect the signatures to put it on the state ballot. "This is another tax on Maryland citizens."

"This is an immigration issue. This is not 'Oh, these poor kids were dragged here by their parents and had no say in this process,'" he says. "The parents made the initial step to cross the border or overstay their visa."

But those on Botwin's side face an uphill battle, with the latest survey from the Washington Post showing 59 percent of voters polled supporting the DREAM Act. The opposition campaign has not been as organized, or funded, as that of DREAM Act supporters.

"Help Save Maryland is a volunteer organization. And many of the Tea Party groups that are involved are also," Botwin says. "It's more internet-based ... word of mouth." 

The coalition supporting the DREAM Act has stuck together, even though many in the group are split on another big ticket item on the ballo: same-sex marriage.

"We're working on the DREAM Act with partners in the coalition exclusively, obviously," says Mary Ellen Russell, the executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference. "The other issue is a separate issue for all of us."

For the undocumented students to be eligible for the tuition rates, their parents must have filed to pay Maryland state taxes. 

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