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Illegal immigration: why eyes will be on Maryland this Election Day

Maryland's in-state tuition referendum is the only big-ticket illegal-immigration issue before voters this Election Day. How Maryland goes could influence other states – and Congress.

By Staff writer / November 2, 2012

Early voters line up outside a polling station in Silver Spring, Md., late last month. Question 4, a referendum on a law to offer some illegal immigrants in-state tuition at state universities, is one of the items on the ballot.

Gary Cameron/REUTERS

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Washington

Immigrant advocates hope the Maryland DREAM Act could help prime Washington’s discussion of immigration policy, a topic both President Obama and Mitt Romney say they want to address if they win the Nov. 6 election.

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Maryland stands alone in the nation as the only state with a high-profile immigration issue going before voters Tuesday. Question 4 asks voters to endorse or reject a law that approved in-state tuition for some illegal immigrants at state universities.

Though 11 other states already allow illegal immigrants to obtain in-state tuition at state universities, no other state has asked voters to weigh in, says Ann Morse, program director of the Immigrant Policy Project at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

A victory Tuesday could show lawmakers that “not only did the sky not fall, [but] generally speaking it was a well-received move, not just within the immigrant community, not just within the Latino electorate, but generally,” says Clarissa Martinez de Castro, director of immigration and national campaigns at the National Council of La Raza.

Maryland's DREAM Act, which draws its moniker from a stalled US Senate bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrants, was signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) in May. But conservatives put it on the ballot as a popular referendum in a bid to stop it.

The act would require illegal immigrants to graduate from a Maryland high school, provide a minimum of three years of their parents' filed income taxes, intend to apply for permanent residency when possible, and register with the Selective Service system. If students meet those requirements, they would be able to qualify for in-state tuition for two years at a state community college, followed by two years at a state university. Estimates suggest that several hundred students a year could be eligible; they will not be counted against university caps for in-state students.

Polling has shown support as high as 60 percent for Question 4, and some observers have been surprised by the level of support for the initiative. Activists opposed to the law submitted more than double the necessary signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

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