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Maryland Lawsuit Targets Undocumented Students’ Local Tuition Break

A Maryland community college is facing a lawsuit over its policy to provide low “in-county” tuition rates to any recent graduate of a local high school regardless of immigration status.

Judicial Watch claims the Montgomery College policy violates federal and state law and says the policy has cost Montgomery County, Md., taxpayers $5.8 million in lost revenue since 2006.

Tom Fitton, Judicial Watch president, says federal law prevents undocumented immigrants from receiving state or local public benefits, including post-secondary education, unless there is a specific state law allowing such a policy. Maryland “has never enacted a law affirmatively providing that unlawfully present aliens are eligible to receive reduced, in-county tuition at public institutions of higher education, including community colleges such as Montgomery College,” the suit states.

“The policy is especially egregious in this age of government budget crises,” Fitton said. The suit was filed in Circuit Court in Montgomery County, located northwest of Washington, D.C.

Montgomery College called the lawsuit “unwarranted” and vowed to contest it. In a statement, the college’s board of trustees said the legal challenge “contains various misrepresentations about college operations and misapplications of law.”

The college policy offers the lowest tuition rate to any graduate of a Montgomery County public high school within the past three years, regardless of where these graduates currently reside. If students graduated from a county public high school more than three years ago, they must provide proof of county residency to receive this discount.

In its statement, the college board of trustees said its “long-standing practice” of discounted tuition supports the region’s workforce by helping many local graduates move directly to post-secondary education.

“Montgomery Count y has invested in our children’s education in grades K-12, and Montgomery College is leveraging that investment by providing a seamless transition to higher education for all recent Montgomery County Public School graduates,” the trustees noted.

Nearly 60,000 students attend credit and non-credit programs at Montgomery College, which offers certificate and associate degree programs.

The suit represents a potentially new battleground on the issue of discounted tuition for undocumented students. In recent years, many states have grappled with the issue of whether these students should pay in-state tuition rates at public higher education institutions.

At the state level, Maryland also appears to be an early flashpoint for this debate in 2011. Democratic state Sen. Victor Ramirez wants to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities, unveiling his plan shortly after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act to help undocumented students gain legal status.

But state Del. Pat McDonough (R) has countered with plans to introduce more than a dozen new bills designed to combat illegal immigration. McDonough participated in a Judicial Watch news conference in Annapolis, Md., to announce the new lawsuit.

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