Delegate seeks probe into tuition break for illegal immigrants

A state delegate known for targeting illegal immigration called on prosecutors Wednesday to investigate a Montgomery County community college that has long offered in-state tuition to undocumented students.

"You can't give this state taxpayer-financed benefit to illegal immigrants," Del. Patrick L. McDonough told reporters in Annapolis.

The Baltimore County Republican said an audit at Montgomery College concluded the cost of the benefit might have topped $2 million for about 11,000 credit hours during the past academic year, as the state was struggling with a budget shortfall.

McDonough said the practice appeared to violate state and federal laws, and he has asked state and federal prosecutors to investigate for possible civil and criminal violations. He said he would demand that Gov. Martin O'Malley freeze state funding for the public school.

A spokeswoman for Montgomery College, which has campuses in Rockville, Takoma Park and Germantown, said the school's policy is to offer reduced tuition to anyone who can demonstrate that he or she lives in Montgomery County or graduated from a public high school there within the past three years.

Spokeswoman Elizabeth Homan said the 11,000 credit hours cited in the audit represented students who did not provide information beyond address or local high school diploma. Horman said the number was not used in determining state state funding; she said the two-year college complies with the law.

The tuition break appears to defy a four-year-old opinion by the Maryland attorney general's office, McDonough said. In 2006, then-Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., told the Prince George's County Community College Board of Trustees that it "lacks the authority to waive the out-of-county tuition rates for undocumented aliens."

The General Assembly would have to adopt authorizing legislation, Curran said at the time.

McDonough said he has been working on the issue for about six months with the conservative group Judicial Watch, and the parties are considering legal action, such as seeking a court order to block the practice and a taxpayer lawsuit.

A spokesman for O'Malley said the governor has not expressed a position on the college's tuition policy.

"This sounds like Pat McDonough is becoming part of Bob Ehrlich's increasingly desperate political campaign in the closing days of this election," spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said.

McDonough said he had not contacted Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. about his announcement Wednesday.

Ehrlich, running to win his old job back from O'Malley, has seized on illegal immigration in the hope of rallying voters in the final days of the campaign. He has derided O'Malley's use of the term "new Americans" to describe immigrants.

"If somebody breaks into my house," he asked during a debate this month, "is that a new member of my family?"

As governor, Ehrlich vetoed legislation to grant illegal immigrants in-state tuition at public schools. O'Malley has said he would sign such legislation.

Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.