ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The approval of Maryland's Dream Act by popular vote should help spur the idea in other states to allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges, if they meet certain qualifications, supporters said Friday.
Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice Education Fund, said passage of the ballot question with 58 percent of the vote indicated broad support. On controversial issues such as immigration, Sharry said, winning a statewide referendum for the first time often has a way of showing that it has passed through the "crucible of American politics" and officially arrived as an issue.
"I think this is a huge turning point in the nationwide debate about immigration policy, and it should be seen in that light," Sharry, whose organization advocates for immigration reform, said in a conference call with reporters.
The state's Dream Act allows illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, if they have attended a Maryland high school for three years and they or their parents can show they filed state income tax returns during that time. The law was signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley last year, but opponents gathered enough signatures to petition it to the ballot. About a dozen other states have a similar law, but Maryland is the first where voters have decided the matter.
Sharry noted that a similar measure failed in Colorado this year, and he expressed confidence that legislation similar to Maryland's will win approval there next year.
"I do think we're going to start to see this spread to more and more states as a result of elections, as a result of the growing sympathy for young people who just want to get an education to contribute to the country that they call home," Sharry said.
Maryland Delegate Aisha Braveboy, D-Prince George's, said the outcome of Tuesday's vote on the Dream Act is a sign that people are recognizing that illegal immigrants can't simply be sent back or "self-deported."
"I think that people are more sympathetic to these issues and I believe that it will pass in other states," Braveboy said.
Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer for the Service Employees International Union, said President Barack Obama's re-election and the vote on Maryland's Dream Act has proven that immigration reform is the road to the future, not a political third rail.
"I think that this election in Maryland has opened up a door of opportunities to finally deal in a sensible humane manner with immigration reform, one that will deal with young people, that will deal with their parents and will live up to the values of America as an immigrant nation," Medina said.
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