About a dozen state lawmakers and civil rights leaders urged Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday to sign a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Maryland colleges.
Several delegates arrived at the news conference to express their opposition to the bill, and each group accused the other of spreading lies. The governor is still considering whether to sign the bill, said Henry Falwell, an Ehrlich spokesman.
"Everyone has been very clear about their position on the bill, but he hasn't made up his mind yet," Falwell said.
Ehrlich has until May 27 to veto or sign the bill, which would let undocumented immigrants pay in-state tuition at state colleges if they have attended a Maryland high school for at least three years, have graduated or obtained an equivalency degree and have signed an affidavit promising to apply for permanent residency.
Supporters say the bill is crucial to the hopes of undocumented students, many of whom were illegally brought to the country at a young age. Although many grew up in the United States, they are not considered U.S. residents and do not qualify for in-state tuition in Maryland.
Out-of-state residents pay nearly $9,000 a year more than Maryland residents. Many students cannot afford the out-of-state tuition and have to drop out of school and work, immigrant advocates say.
"This is about educating our constituents. Don't we want to educate all our citizens in Maryland?" asked Del. Carolyn J.B. Howard, a Prince George's County Democrat.
Other delegates said the students shouldn't be punished for their parents' actions. Without a college education, they would have no choice but to work in low-paying jobs, the bill's supporters said. Furthermore, they said, many students would have a hard time attending college in their native country.
"I do not believe we should hold students hostage," said Del. Obie Patterson, a Prince George's Democrat.
About half a dozen other states, including Washington, Illinois, Texas and Utah, have passed laws to allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition.
Several Maryland lawmakers who are opposed to the bill fear it would hurt blacks' chances of getting into college and would reward people who entered the country illegally.
"After 240 years of slavery and 80 years of segregation, to give the same privileges we have to undocumented immigrants is not fair. It's wrong," said Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat.
Burns co-sponsored the bill but said he regretted doing so. . "Once I thought about it more, I'm adamantly opposed to the bill," he said.
Del. Herbert H. McMillan, an Anne Arundel County Republican, said he is opposed to the bill because it "is unfair to people who play by the rules."
McMillan also said the bill would cost state colleges $3.3 million over five years, a figure that was hotly contested by several delegates and Latino advocates, who accused McMillian of lying.
A recent study said the bill should have little fiscal impact on the state, but McMillan said he doubted the study and that the bill would hurt citizens' chances of getting into college.
"We should put our citizens ahead of foreign nationals," McMillan said.
Henry Hailstock, president of the Montgomery County branch of the NAACP, said the chapter would support the bill, but other branches of the group do not support it.