DREAM Act passes after nine year battle

Suspense, encouragement, dashed hopes, anticipation.

Since 2003, proponents and opponents of the DREAM Act in Maryland have repeatedly felt a wave of ever-changing emotions as the fight to allow illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition waged on and on. The Associated Press called the proponents of the DREAM Act the winners at 11:40 p.m.

With more than 80 percent of precincts reporting at 11:30 p.m., 57 percent of Maryland residents voted in favor of the DREAM Act.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley tweeted at 11:36 p.m.: "Tonight, Marylanders chose to make the dream of a college education a reality for every child by voting for DREAM."

In Carroll County, 50,615 voted against the referred law, and 29,853 voted for it.

"Right now, I'm very surprised," said Michelle Jefferson, former chairwoman of We the People, Carroll County around 10:45 p.m. Tuesday. "I figured we'd be a little closer on Question 4 than where we are now."

The Maryland DREAM Act - which stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors - allows illegal immigrants to receive tuition, but only if they meet a strict criteria. The children must have been brought to the United States in time to attend three years of high school, attend a two-year community college, accepted into the school of their choosing and their parents or guardian must file an income tax return.

The state legislature approved of the measure in 2003. However, then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a Republican, vetoed the act.

In 2011, the Maryland General Assembly narrowly passed the law on the last day of the legislative session. Proponents cheered, while opponents gathered their troops. This was a bill, they said, that the public deserves to vote on.

So, a petition was organized to garner the necessary 59,200 signatures needed to put the issue on the 2012 ballot. It required hours upon hours of knocking on neighbors' doors and tabling events - and many We the People, Carroll County members participated.

We the People, Carroll County netted thousands of signatures and helped successfully put the issue to a public vote, according to Jefferson, which is the first time in nearly 20 years that such a petition was successful in Maryland.

At the polls Tuesday, Carroll County residents had mixed opinions.

Erich Steinnagel strolled out of the Carrolltowne Elementary School gymnasium with his 24-year-old daughter Kristin Steinnagel after voting. He'd just finished putting her through college at Stevenson University, so he knows about college tuition. The two voted against Question 4.

"I think we need to take care of the people who have been doing it right," Erich said.

That was Jefferson's sentiment.

"I know everybody thinks this is the right thing to do. Those poor kids," she told the Times in September. "But what about those of us who follow the law every day? But what about those who can't pay to have another penny taken out of our paychecks to pay for somebody who's broken the law?"

But many supporters said college - it's expensive.

That's something Madison Deegan, a 20-year-old McDaniel College student said she knows well. It's an expense that's worth it for the psychology major. It's one she voted to make more affordable for undocumented immigrants, taking time out of her day to go to the Carrolltowne Elementary School precinct.

Educating Maryland Kids, an activist organization for the DREAM Act, had not put out a news release by 11:45 p.m. Tuesday.

"We think there's been a lot of misinformation and a lot of voters who don't know about question four and the DREAM act," Kristin Ford, communications director of Educating Maryland Kids, told the Times in September. "Our job isn't to convince people but to explain what the law actually does, and that's what does the convincing for us."

And so it seems it had.