Kojo talks with author Colson Whitehead about his new novel "The Underground Railroad" and its resonance at this particular moment in history.
Maryland voters will decide on Nov. 6, 2012, whether their state will join 10 others in allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition at state schools. Kojo explores how Maryland’s Dream Act decision will affect local immigrant communities and how the ballot initiative fits into federal immigration politics.
- Margie McHugh Co-Director, National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy at the Migration Policy Institute.
- Matt Bush Maryland Reporter, WAMU.
- Gustavo Torres Executive Director, CASA de Maryland
Making Of Maryland Dream Act
Question 4 on the Maryland ballot asks voters to weigh in on the state’s so-called Dream Act. The law allows some undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities. Several requirements apply, including graduation from a Maryland high school, annual filing of income tax returns and completion of two years at a community college. The state’s General Assembly passed the law and Governor Martin O’Malley signed it last year, but opponents collected enough signatures to force it onto the ballot as a referendum.
Proponents of the measure say the state would see increased graduation rates at both the university and high school levels, followed by economic benefits such as greater home ownership. Opponents say the law would make Maryland an attractive destination for illegal immigration, ultimately costing the state more money and jobs.
History Of Maryland’s Dream Act:
March 14, 2011
Maryland Senate passed Bill 167, Maryland Dream Act
April 4, 2011
Maryland House of Delegates passed the Dream Act
April 8, 2011
Conference Committee approved the bill’s final language
May 10, 2011
Signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D)
May 31, 2011
State Delegate Neil Parrott (R) filed an online petition against the Dream Act
June 22, 2011
The local board of elections verified that the minimum number of initial signatures had been collected in order to place the measure on the 2012 ballot
MR. KOJO NNAMDIToday, an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States. Congress is still deadlocked over whether to offer them a path to citizenship. But some states are stepping forward to make college education more affordable. Several states allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at community colleges and universities, the result of policies passed by lawmakers. Next week, Maryland voters will be the first in the nation to weigh in on a so-called state DREAM Act.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt would grant in-state tuition at public universities to undocumented immigrants who qualify. The general assembly passed the law last year, but opponents forced it onto the ballot. We'll explore what Question 4 on the Maryland ballot could mean for the state and for immigrant students who want a college degree. Joining us in studio to discuss this is Margie McHugh, co-director of the National Center on Immigration Integration Policy at the Migration Policy Institute. Margie, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. MARGIE MCHUGHPleasure.
NNAMDIGustavo Torres is executive director of CASA de Maryland. Gustavo, good to see you again.
MR. GUSTAVO TORRESSame wise.
NNAMDIAnd Matt Bush took time off from his day job to join us here. What is his day job? Oh, Maryland reporter for WAMU. Matt, good to see you.
MR. MATT BUSHGood to see you.
NNAMDIMatt, I'll start with you. Tell us what Question 4 would do for the undocumented students in Maryland who want to go to college.
BUSHThis would allow them to receive in-state tuition rates, which are cheaper than the out-of-state tuition rates at all state colleges and universities. So anything that's in the University of Maryland system, all the various campuses there, the state colleges and universities and then all the community colleges and basically anything that's a publicly funded higher education institution. They would be able to receive the in-state tuition rate, thus the lower rate. But to qualify for that, their parents must show that they have filed and paid state taxes.
NNAMDIWhat would an undocumented student, him or herself, need to do to qualify for in-state tuition?
BUSHRight. They -- so again, their parents have to show that they have paid or filed and paid for state taxes, and they also will have had to -- have graduated from a Maryland public school or from a Maryland high school.
NNAMDIIt also suggests to me that they -- and Gustavo, you can help me with this -- that they must attend a Maryland community college for two years before continuing on to the state's public university?
TORRESAbsolutely. The Maryland DREAM is probably the most tough legislation from all of these different 11 states that already passed the DREAM. They specifically call for make sure that the kids not only graduate on middle and high school, but also they need to go to the community colleges first. And then, of course, they need to pay taxes at least for three year, their families, before they qualify for the in-state tuition. Remember that it's not any public benefits. It's just a possibility for them to be paid in-state tuition in Maryland. So that is where the (unintelligible) about.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. In your view, do states have a responsibility to make higher education accessible to everyone? 800-433-8850. How does this measure differ from the federal DREAM Act that's languishing in Congress, Margie McHugh?
MCHUGHWell, for one, the federal DREAM Act would actually provide legal status to young people if they pursue this. So that's really the prize at the end of the federal DREAM Act path. But the -- there are a number measures sort of similar to the Maryland initiative that are calling -- that are called DREAM Act because they're addressing the needs of these same young people. But for the most part, they deal the state level measures with things like out-of-state tuition rules which are more within the purview of the powers that states have.
NNAMDIResearch shows that foreign-born Hispanic young adults drop out of high school at a higher rate than their counterparts born in the United States. Would offering in-state tuition provide a greater incentive to finish high school, Margie?
MCHUGHYeah. Well, there's a fair amount of research demonstrating that one of the very, very big issues for young people trying to complete a two-year degree, for example, move out of high school and get some sort of post-secondary ed, one of the biggest barriers, if not the biggest barriers is the cost of higher ed. And as Gustavo was saying, the Maryland DREAM Act actually isn't as generous as what's happening in a few other states where not only is there the opportunity to get in-state tuition in some other places but also access to state grants, for example.
MCHUGHBut, absolutely, the question of the affordability of higher ed is a really key one that these measures are trying to address. And even just to get young people to complete high school -- this will clearly be a motivator of young people to complete high school now knowing that they can go on and that their education will really mean something.
NNAMDIWill it be necessarily so, Gustavo? Because even in-state tuition may be too expensive for some immigrant students and families. Would a Maryland DREAM Act really result in a higher success rate, do you think, in high school for undocumented students even if…
TORRESAbsolutely. We believe so. And, again, they may say tuition is expensive, but you compare with out-of-state, when you go to the University of Maryland, you need to pay $24,000 out-of-state. With the in-state tuition, you pay $8,000. So it's a possibility even for low-income families to pay an in-state tuition. It's hard.
TORRESIt's difficult, but they have the opportunity even though that they don't qualify for any loans again because they are undocumented. So they don't qualify for a loan. But if you ask any of the students or the families, they strongly support this because they see an opportunity for them to complete their college.
NNAMDIMatt Bush, you have been following this initiative closely. How have both sides made this a debate about fairness for students and for taxpayers?
BUSHRight. The side that supports this says there are two students who graduate from a Montgomery County high school. They've been in there all 12, 13 years, come up through the system and all of that. Once they graduate, maybe both of them want to go to University of Maryland in College Park. All of a sudden, one is able to get that at the in-state tuition rate because their family is not undocumented. The other's family -- the other person whose family is undocumented, they, all of a sudden, have to pay three times the amount to go to the same college.
BUSHAnd that is the -- how do you treat two different students who have come through the system at the same time fairly, that it's not the child's fault that the family is undocumented? And the other side says this is unfair to state taxpayers because they are footing the bill for this, for people who -- these are people who pay taxes, who file for and pay taxes and all of that. They view it as a fairness issue that, all of a sudden now, the taxpayers have to foot the bill for this issue.
NNAMDITaxpayers have to foot the bill for people who, as far as they are concerned, should not be in the country at all...
TORRESAren't paying taxes.
NNAMDI...and are not paying taxes.
TORRESTo them, it's both, not being undocumented and also to them not paying taxes.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Erin in Baltimore, Md. Erin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Erin, are you there?
ERINYes. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIGo ahead. Yes, we can now.
ERINOK, great. I have been listening to this debate on several of the NPR shows for the last couple of days, and I was very much on the fence before I listened to both sides. And now I have made up my mind that I am for the DREAM Act. But I do have to say I think a lot of the people that I've heard debating are so extreme on one side or the other, and I've heard the argument several times that this is not an immigration.
ERINIt's purely an education issue, and I definitely disagree with that. And I think that, had the DREAM Act been discussed more in the realm of all of the issues that immigrant undocumented families are dealing with right now and how we're going to move forward with immigration, that perhaps more people would be for the DREAM Act.
ERINAnd I'm just kind of curious as why so many supporters of the DREAM Act has sort of not been willing to admit that it does have something to do with immigration. And I think if we acknowledge that that more people would be in support of it in general. I think a lot of people are against it just because they feel that there isn't anything done -- being done with the chaos of immigration right now.
NNAMDIInteresting question. Margie McHugh, care to deal with that at all?
MCHUGHSure. Well, I'm a little surprised to hear that Erin's impression is that the debate had been trying to totally skirt that because my impression from other parts of the country is that this is very much nestled into that larger debate and saying -- Matt, you mentioned it -- that one of the primary arguments is that we -- in the U.S., we really -- we don't blame kids for the acts of their parents, and these are young people who were brought here by their parents.
MCHUGHAnd so they really can't help or change their immigration status. And so this certainly is very much related to the immigration debate but this is a group of young people that you can't hold responsible for the larger problems in the immigration debate. Plus, you've already made an investment in them, and it's really not very smart if they are going to, in all likelihood, stay here anyway, perhaps even have children of their own.
MCHUGHWe want you, the education advocates, stand around the side of making sure that they make the most of their education, their human capital, I would say also with an eye to the idea that maybe the federal government will actually act on this population. They might not act on the larger population, larger comprehensive immigration reform, but that this is -- that this is a population that it's easier to see a pathway to having federal action related to them.
NNAMDIWith Matt and Gustavo, I don't know, but is it possible that there are supporters of this act who have been making the point that since it does not lead to a path to citizenship, that it is therefore not valid to think of it as an immigration issue at all? Have you heard that argument, Gustavo?
TORRESI mean, we take another view of this. We all kind of all agree that the immigration system is broke, without no question. But I believe that, in particular, this DREAM in Maryland is about education. It's about education because we are speaking about kids who love the state, who, again, arrived to our state when they have -- they were very young.
TORRESAnd now they went to the high school, did an extraordinary job while they were there, and now it's the opportunity for them to go to college. That is the reason why we believe that, yes, it's related with immigration, without no question. But if you are speaking about the DREAM Act per se, it's totally related with education. So that is our viewpoint about that.
NNAMDIMatt Bush, a Washington Post poll shows Maryland voters largely in favor of the tuition measure. But a recent Baltimore Sun poll still puts it in a dead heat. How is the state divided geographically on Question 4? Who are the supporters, and who are the opponents?
BUSHWell, the supporters -- first, about The Post and the Sun polls. The Sun -- they have differed on every issue this year. Their polls -- their gaming poll, the Sun gaming poll on Question 7 shows it being defeated pretty easily while The Post poll puts it even. So there's a difference with the polling. I haven't looked quite to see, but I'm sure it's in the way maybe the words were questioned in the poll. But the supporters obviously in the D.C. suburbs, you see a lot of support for this. This is where the higher immigrant population is, and it's also the more populous area of the state now.
BUSHThe opponents of this -- and one of the reasons, I think, that it's passing by these large numbers is that the opposition to this is kind of disjointed and disorganized. Even by their own accounts, they feel that they're sort of disjointed and disorganized. So it's kind of tough to put this on there. There's a lot of Tea Party groups who are against them. That would probably go more towards the western part of the state and the Eastern Shore.
BUSHAnd a lot of the -- use the correct term, but the immigration reform people who are in the anti-immigrant groups and all that sort of thing, they're sort of mixed throughout the state, but they're in very small numbers. But definitely the fact that it has the high numbers of passage in most of the polls -- not the Sun poll, but most of the polls shows the political clout of the D.C. suburbs and how they're becoming the most populous area of the state. And they're becoming the more -- pulling of political power.
NNAMDIAnd the more you get into the rural areas, the more you tend to find people who are against it.
NNAMDIOn to Ryan in Silver Spring, Md. Ryan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RYANHi, Kojo. My question was why is it that resources from the state should be used to enable people who are here illegally as opposed to people who are here legally? And the second part of that question, what is the...
NNAMDIWell, wait. Allow me to have someone answer the first part of the question because you seem to be suggesting that the resources of the state are not being used to help people who are here legally. Is that what you intended to say?
RYANWhat I'm saying is that if there are people who -- I think that whatever resources should be used to help people who are here legally before they're used to help people who are here illegally. If they've been here for 10 years, wouldn't it be cheaper than paying out-of-state tuition to actually file for citizenship and then thereby enable themselves to be able to apply to college as a legal citizen?
TORRESYeah. Unfortunately, again, the -- as I mentioned before, the immigration system is totally broke, that those kids who -- they love this country, and they want to apply for citizenship. But they don't have any possibilities because the immigration reform -- immigration system is totally broke. That is, in part, the reason why passing immigration reform at the federal level is so very important.
TORRESAnd, again, one more time to clarify about the in-state tuition, this is not any assistant to the students. The only thing that we're asking is that people who love our state, who graduate in high school, who pay taxes, their families pay taxes, at least three years before they go to college, they have the opportunity to having in-state tuition...
NNAMDIBut in response to Ryan's specific question, asking whether it would not be simpler and maybe less expensive for these students to apply for citizenship first before applying for in-state tuition, is there currently, in the immigration law, a path to citizenship for such students?
NNAMDIRyan, thank you very much for your call. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on the Maryland DREAM Act. If you've called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your calls. If not, we still have lines open at 800-433-8850. Do you think states should take immigration reform in the form of education access into their own hands? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's one of the initiatives that if you're voting in Maryland, you'll be seeing on the ballot next week -- the Maryland DREAM Act. Joining us to discuss it is Matt Bush, Maryland reporter for WAMU 88.5. Margie McHugh is co-director of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy at the Migration Policy Institute. And Gustavo Torres is executive director of CASA de Maryland. They all join us in studio. Back to the telephones. Here is Monica in Takoma Park, Md. Monica, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MONICAHi. Good afternoon. So, last night, I actually went to do some early voting in Prince George's County. And even after, you know, waiting in line, you hear people coming out, and the -- like Erin, the previous caller, talked about, they're so angry about this DREAM Act. And it's sad because it comes from minority groups. And then it comes down, and they're saying, no, we can't give these undocumented, illegal people, you know, help. And it just -- it makes me so sad because, at the end of the day, something like this helps the entire community.
NNAMDIIn what way?
MONICAIt just builds Maryland up to have an educated community that will invest back into Maryland, and it will really make Maryland kind of stand out in the U.S. as a state that everyone should really be proud of. So that's just my feeling about it. I myself am an immigrant, and I came here. You know, my parents brought me here, and I became a citizen because my mother became a citizen.
MONICABut I place myself in the shoes of people that, you know, they're -- they didn't have a say when they came to the United States, and now all they want to do is get an education. And like you've been saying, it's not that you are giving people grants or scholarships. You're offering them in-state tuition, which means a lot to a lot of people.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call. Gustavo, in neighboring states like Virginia, we've seen efforts to restrict immigration. Why do you think Maryland -- Maryland's attitude towards immigration tends to be more reflective of Monica, more accepting?
TORRESFirst of all, let me respond to the caller. The numbers that we have about the Question 4 -- the DREAM Act Question 4 on the African-American community is extraordinary, that is the voters that more support the Question 4. Seventy percent of the African-American community strongly support Question 4, and I believe in our conversation with the leaders and with the communities because they truly believe in education, civil rights. And that is the reason why there is strong support.
TORRESAnd again in Maryland we have this pro -- I would say pro-immigrant status because it's a very progressive state. It's the second most progressive state all around the nation after Hawaii. So I believe that that is the reason why, and they -- and also because of the extraordinary contribution of the immigrant community in the economy, in the culture, in the social aspect of Maryland.
NNAMDIMatt Bush, is that what you have been hearing? Is that the argument you've been hearing, as you've been covering this, from people who tend to support it, people who are not necessarily a part of the organized effort to support it, but who, just like our caller Monica, say they support it because it's good for Maryland?
BUSHIt's -- most people would think that this is -- I don't know the exact number on it, but Maryland has, I believe the highest rate of people with post, you know, with higher education degrees in the country, one of the highest rates in the country. And I think 10 people who tend to have or very educated also believe that having other people that are very educated is a very good thing. So I think a lot of it is viewed is that way. Demographics is another issue.
BUSHThe immigration population in Maryland has really skyrocketed in the last decade. The census number showed that. And I think just to the point the caller made about going to early vote yesterday in Prince George's County, I was at a few of those locations. And we're just basing it on the signs that were outside of those. You know, I saw anti and pro-Question 6 and 7 signs out there. I saw a no anti-Question 4 signs out there. So -- but I did see pro-Question 4 signs. So...
NNAMDIMargie, while the federal DREAM Act could offer a path to citizenship as we've been saying, state-level DREAM Acts do not change a student's legal status. What challenges could these students still face after they graduate from university?
MCHUGHWell, so this is one of the interesting questions about the overlay with the president's current program of deferred action for young people because, certainly, one of the biggest problems is if there is no legal status, then there is not work authorization. And so one of the arguments against some of these initiatives is that young people will obtain that additional education but then still not be able to apply it in the workforce.
MCHUGHAnd I think that's why there are some interesting pivots off of this up into federal policy, both with the president's current program that provides work authorization to young people who more or less matched the profile that these state-level DREAM Acts are addressing and then also the question of whether DREAM Act will be on the table after the election.
NNAMDIGustavo, in June, President Obama announced that undocumented immigrants could apply for a two-year work permit. How does this short-term policy change the prospects of the same young immigrants who would qualify for the Maryland DREAM Act?
TORRESFirst of all, people are super excited in my community. They are super excited. I mean, we have thousands and thousands of those dreamers who are qualified to the President Obama relief. They come to CASA de Maryland, in all of our centers around Baltimore, Montgomery, Prince George to receive the information. And also, we help them enroll the application to site. They are very, very excited about this tremendous opportunity that the president is providing to them.
TORRESBut also, the issue with the DREAM and this particular relief is that not necessarily the qualifications are exactly matched. So for instance, the DREAM is a little bit more flexible in terms of, you know, the three years taxes and all of that. So yes, that is a big benefit. Yes, people are very excited about that. But the DREAM Act Question 4 is very essential for our community.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Ron, who says, "How do you show you've paid taxes if you're illegal? How can someone living in Maryland illegally prove that they pay state taxes if they don't have a Social Security number or an alien registration number as some illegal immigrants don't?" Gustavo.
TORRESSure, and not only in Maryland but all around the country. The federal government provide the opportunity to families who are undocumented with something called tax ID number. If you have a tax ID number, you can pay your taxes. We in CASA help hundreds and hundreds of families to apply for the tax ID because we believe that it's very essential that we pay taxes in our state to make sure that we also benefit from the extraordinary, you know, benefits that we have in Maryland. So that is the way how people pay taxes, not only in Maryland but all around the country.
NNAMDIHere is Fatima in Gettysburg, Md. Fatima, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FATIMAHello. Thank you for taking my call. I'm a law student. And I worked for an immigration attorney over the summer. We actually did a lot of different action. And I support the act. But my question was about the law itself. I don't know if you guys can maybe kind of tell me kind a little bit about how the funding comes. I know that that taxpayers are already paying and their covering the in-state tuition, but wouldn't this act kind of spread resources very thin for current legal residents of Maryland?
NNAMDIDo you have any idea, Matt Bush? One study estimates that each year, about 400 graduating students will take advantage of the DREAM Act. Does that make resources less available for...
BUSHI'm seeing studies that show both things. One study says this will be, in the long run, a huge economic benefit to the state. Other studies have said it will dry things up because tuition at the, you know, inflationary rate increase every year. It has been difficult and that is always something that is discussed every year on the General Assembly, keeping the tuition rates at the inflationary level that they go up, you know, and each year. And that's always going to be an issue. Whether this has any effect on it, you can see either way, maybe it will or won't.
NNAMDIThe same study that I quoted, Margie, estimated that educating the state's immigrant communities would proved beneficial for the economy. As Matt points out, other studies differ. But how do immigrants currently participate in the state's economy?
MCHUGHWell, I think Maryland is a very interesting state, both for the large number of highly skilled immigrants that are contributing to the state, as well as immigrants who are considered low-skilled or medium-skilled. And so the economic contributions of immigrants to the state have been very, very well-documented. And in terms of something like this initiative that's on the ballot, education generally, study after study, shows that it very quickly pays for itself.
MCHUGHAnd that's why you see in the study that came out of the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research that if you look in the short-term with education, of course, it's easy anywhere to point to the cost. But if you look at the long-term, the net gains and the net -- as you balance out both the costs and the benefits, you often find very, very much on the side of the investment being paid back many, many times over.
NNAMDIOn to Dennis in Silver Spring, Md. Dennis, your turn.
DENNISYeah, hi there. I just wanted to say that, you know, we've already invested federal, state and county money on these children. These people have been -- these kids have been in English as a second language classes and head-start classes. We've already spent money on them. And that's money that was actually spent.
DENNISTo let a child go to school at an in-state rate when he's a resident of the state, this is costing us -- I mean, this is costing an outlay of money. It's not a zero sum thing, you know? I mean, the state of Maryland isn't making up the difference in in-state and out-of-state tuition to the university for each child that pays in-state tuition.
NNAMDISo you're saying it makes no sense to stop at this point?
DENNISAbsolutely. It makes no sense to stop educating these folks.
DENNISAnd I'm already -- you know, I could get crazy about the fact that these folks are in our country because they're economic refugees and, you know, that we're part of that problem, too. So whatever, but I'm definitely voting for number seven. Thanks.
NNAMDIDennis, thank you very much for your call. And I'm afraid your voice is going to be -- well, not afraid, but your voice is simply going to be the last one heard specifically on this issue because we're just about out of time. Margie McHugh is co-director of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy at the Migration Policy Institute. Thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIGustavo Torres is executive director of CASA de Maryland. Gustavo, thank you for joining us.
TORRESThank you so much.
NNAMDIMatt Bush, what are you going to be covering over the next few days?
BUSHWe're going to keep looking at these things in the next few days. And then on election night, I'll be on Baltimore discussing with all our coverage on both gay marriage and the DREAM Act.
NNAMDIAnd if I'm lucky, I'll get to host that coverage next Tuesday night, Nov. 6 right here. Matt Bush is Maryland reporter for WAMU 88.5. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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