New senator wants in-state tuition for illegal immigrants

A new state senator said Tuesday that he plans to introduce legislation to give in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants who have attended state high schools.

"After we have invested in their education, it makes sense to treat them equally when it comes to college tuition," said Victor Ramirez, a Prince George's County Democrat. He said colleges should focus on residency requirements rather than immigration status.

Annual tuition and mandatory fees at the University of Maryland are $8,416 for state residents and $24,831 for nonresidents, according to the school's website.

Ramirez, who was a delegate for eight years before winning a Senate seat this fall, said his legislation would be similar to a 2007 plan that passed the House of Delegates but faltered in the Senate. Both chambers approved an in-state tuition bill in 2003, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat who has referred to illegal immigrants as "new Americans," has said he would sign an in-state tuition bill.

Ramirez said he believes the changed makeup of the state Senate — which gained two Democrats this fall — gives the effort "a good chance of passing this year." He said the legislation would require that a college applicant attend at least two years of high school in Maryland, have parents who pay income taxes and sign an affidavit swearing that he or she would complete the paperwork necessary to become a U.S. citizen.

Del. Pat McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican, said Tuesday that he plans to introduce 15 bills that crack down on illegal immigrants, including a proposal that would specifically ban colleges from giving them in-state tuition.

"It's not fair to law-abiding students, and it's not fair to taxpayers," said McDonough, who has condemned a Montgomery County community college for giving in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.

Ramirez's renewed interest in the topic comes just after the federal Dream Act failed in the lame-duck Congress. That bill would have provided a path to citizenship for the children of parents who illegally brought them to the United States.

Political observers predict that the infusion of new Republicans in Congress next year means the immigration debate will shift to enforcement.

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