Maryland's highest court ruled Wednesday to allow voters to have the final say over whether illegal immigrants should be eligible to pay in-state tuition rates.

In a two-page order, the Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, allowing the referendum on the 2011 Dream Act to appear on November ballots.

The seven-judge panel heard arguments Tuesday by CASA de Maryland, an advocacy group for low-income Latinos that sought to keep the question off the ballot. CASA's attorneys tried to convince the judges that the Dream Act was a spending bill and therefore exempt from voter review.

For illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition under the act, they must have attended a Maryland high school for at least three years before graduating or obtaining a GED. Students or parents must have also filed state income taxes.

Kimberley Propeack, political action and communications director for CASA, said the ruling was disappointing, but she is confident the group will be able to convince voters that the Dream Act is an issue of fairness.

"We think the majority of Maryland voters will [recognize] these are Maryland kids that go to Maryland high schools and pay Maryland taxes and should be able to pay Maryland in-state tuition," Propeack said.

Eleven states have passed similar laws, Propeack said. CASA and its volunteers are working to engage voters online and in person, and a formal campaign is expected to launch in the upcoming weeks, she said.

Del. Neil C. Parrott, a Washington County Republican, led a drive through Mdpetitions.com to force a referendum on the issue. Nearly 109,000 signatures were gathered for the petition, almost double the 55,700 needed.

"People worked very, very hard last year to get this on the ballot," Parrott said. "CASA de Maryland … did everything in their power to stop the Maryland voters from voting on this."

The court will follow up with a more detailed opinion at a later time. The ruling was time-sensitive, because ballot questions must be certified by Aug. 20.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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