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Maryland Voters to Decide Fate of State Dream Act

Today, Maryland voters will decide whether undocumented immigrants should be allowed to pay in-state tuition for public colleges and universities in the state.

Question 4—more popularly known as Maryland's Dream Act—is the first such policy to be tested statewide at the ballot box. More than a dozen state legislatures—including Maryland's—have approved similar measures that allow eligible undocumented immigrants to pay the same tuition rates that other state residents pay. Republicans in Maryland who opposed the state law that took effect in 2011 led a drive to put the measure on the ballot as a referendum.

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To be eligible for in-state status under Maryland's Dream Act, undocumented students must prove that they attended a state high school for at least three years and that either they or their parents or guardians filed state taxes.

Only then would they be eligible to enroll at community colleges at in-state rates. Those students who earn an associate's degree or 60 credit hours would then be eligible to transfer to a four-year institution at the in-state rate. At the state's flagship University of Maryland, state residents pay roughly $7,100 in tuition annually versus more than $25,000 for nonresident students. Compared with other states' Dream Act laws, Maryland's requires undocumented students to jump through more hoops and does not go as far as California's version of the policy, which gives such students access to financial aid for higher education.

The federal legislation known as the DREAM Act has been hung up in Congress for years. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama ordered federal immigration authorities to halt deportations of qualified undocumented youths younger than 30 and allow them to seek legal work permits, a policy that falls well short of providing the path to citizenship proposed in the federal DREAM Act legislation. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has said that if he wins the White House, he would honor any already-approved deferred-action applications, but made no commitment to keep the policy in place.

Recent polls have shown fairly broad support for Question 4 in Maryland, and advocates are hopeful the measure will sail through.

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