“It’s a dream come true, basically, because I put my heart and soul into this issue,” 22-year-old Misael Garcia told Raw Story.
He was talking about the Maryland DREAM Act, which was passed by the legislature last year, and on November 6 was approved by the voters of Maryland. The measure allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at the state’s public universities.
Maryland is now the 12th state to pass such legislation. The other 11 are California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.
However, Maryland stands out because it is the first state to affirm its law by popular vote.
This vote was also unusual for other reasons. As Raw Story explains:
What is perhaps more remarkable is that, in an election year marked by high Latino voter turnout, Maryland is a state with a lower-than-national average Latino-identified population. Just 8.4 percent of Marylander’s identify as Hispanic or Latino compared with 16.7 percent nationally, according to the latest Census data.
“This is an issue that overwhelmingly affects Hispanic voters, but there are not just Hispanics who are affected by this,” Kristin Ford, communications director of the Educating Maryland Kids coalition which worked on Maryland’s DREAM Act passage, told Raw Story. She said voters largely saw it as an issue of fairness. If these families paid taxes in Maryland and lived in Maryland, undocumented students should pay in-state tuition in Maryland.
Is Maryland paving the way for broader immigration reform?
Such reform would also lead to economic benefits. A study from the University of Maryland Baltimore County estimated that passing the state DREAM Act would result in an additional $5 million per graduating class.
The story repeats itself nationally. According to a report from the Center for American Progress, passage of the DREAM Act would create 1.4 million new jobs by 2030 and would also add $329 billion to the US economy.
The federal DREAM Act offers a path to citizenship for young people who came to America as children and attend college or join the military and don’t have a criminal record. President Barack Obama signed an executive order earlier this year to stop the deportation of young people who fit these qualifications.
The DREAM Act was first introduced into Congress over a decade ago. More recently, when Democrats tried to get the legislation through Congress in 2010, Republicans blocked the immigration reform measure in the Senate. But now, after an election that saw President Obama winning 75 percent of Latino votes, while Mitt Romney espoused strong anti-immigrant positions, several leading Republicans have come out in favor of immigration reform: House Speaker John Boehner, Former Governor of Mississippi Haley Barbour, radio host Sean Hannity.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), who is running for the chairmanship of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told Politico that Republicans will have to change how they reach out to Latino voters. “In some fashion, the way we have dealt with immigration gives us a black eye. And we need to figure out how to talk about issues and pursue policies that matter to Latino, Hispanic voters,” he said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Senate Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Subcommittee, described it as a “breakthrough” that Boehner is willing to work on immigration reform, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) has vowed to pass an immigration law.
The federal DREAM Act has been close to passage twice before. Now thousands of activists around the country are ready to mobilize when Congress decides to take it up again.
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