ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A measure allowing some undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates in Maryland passed the Maryland Senate on Monday.
The bill passed 27-20 but still must be approved by the House of Delegates before going to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has said he would sign it.
During debate, Sen. Victor Ramirez, D-Prince George’s, the bill sponsor who immigrated legally as a child from El Salvador, told opponents that voting against the bill would not solve problems relating to people living illegally in the state. He said the legislation was needed to help people who live here reach their potential and contribute as much as possible to the state.
“It’s about education,” said Ramirez. “It’s not about immigration.”
The financial implications for students are significant. In-state tuition is $8,416 annually, and out-of-state students pay $24,831 a year.
Opponents said the legislation raised the issue of who subsidizes the education of undocumented immigrants, not whether they can attend college.
“I think this sends a terrible message to everyone in the state that you can break the law and you can get a benefit,” said Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard.
But Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, pointed out the state already is required by law to educate children of undocumented immigrants from kindergarten through 12th grade.
“They are here,” King said. “They are going to be living here. They are not leaving.”
Some critics cited cost as a reason why they opposed the bill.
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil, noted how the state has been enduring budget cuts for years, and he cited the closing of a mental health facility on the Eastern Shore as an example of how long-time citizens have lost services during the recession.
“But we found the money for this, if we pass this bill,” Pipkin said. “This bill clearly crowds out from our universities those who are here legally as well.”
The measure has an estimated cost of about $800,000 in fiscal year 2014, $1.6 million in 2015 and $3.5 million in 2016.
Since 2001, 10 states have enacted laws to allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at public universities. They are California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Washington.
The Maryland Senate voted for the bill at a time when many states are cracking down on those who come to the U.S. illegally. The Senate made some changes to the bill last week in order to better ensure people who qualify have been in the country for some time.
For example, students would have to attend community college in a jurisdiction where they went to high school before qualifying for in-state tuition rates at a four-year college or university. Students also would have to spend three years in a Maryland high school instead of the two years first proposed to be eligible.
That change made the bill similar to legislation that was approved in 2003. It was vetoed by former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a Republican.