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Maybe it's time for a little immigration reality check

June 08, 2011|By TAMELA BAKER

Nobody asked whether I wanted to be born in Cleveland.

Nor was I consulted about whether I wanted to grow up in West Virginia’s “other” panhandle. I would have asked for a place with a beach.

It’s a rare child indeed who gets to choose where he or she grows up. And none of us gets to choose where we’re born.

For what it’s worth, had I been a member of the General Assembly, I would have voted against the Maryland DREAM Act, which permits some undocumented immigrants who went to high school in Maryland to pay in-state tuition at state-supported colleges.

Even so, these kids didn’t ask to be here in the first place, and as most are still minors, gaining citizenship has been a practical impossibility. Putting higher education further out of reach when the feds have already sentenced them to bureaucratic purgatory seems unfair.

But this legislation is problematic, not the least because it’s simply not the responsibility of Maryland or any other state to fix immigration problems Congress has allowed to fester. Nor should the state give the impression it sanctions violation of federal law.

And the legislation’s sponsors haven’t exactly done a bang-up job of defending it to date; consequently, it’s been blown way out of proportion and used to bolster the images of opportunists whose otherwise lackluster records would not begin to merit such attention.

There are valid reasons for opposition, and then there’s the exaggeration, misinformation and lack of context currently being employed to get us to sign petitions to try to rescind it.

Among the claims on the tuition petition Web site are the following:

“Granting in-state rates to illegal aliens will take spots away from Marylanders who wish to go to college.”

Nope. The law specifically states they would be counted as out-of-state students for purposes of determining how many spots are reserved for Marylanders. They’d be competing with kids from other states for spots at these schools, not yours.

“Many Marylanders cannot afford to send their own children to college, and yet this bill uses their tax dollars to pay for illegals to go to college.”

I hate math, but here goes. The state’s budget analysts figure that in five years, this law will be costing Maryland $3.5 million in potential revenue. Now, if all things were equal, we could divide that figure between our 23 counties and the city of Baltimore, and the maximum share for us would be $140,000. Your last board of county commissioners cost you four times that amount when they waived the excise tax for developers. But all things are not equal; most state tax revenue comes from urban areas. Our share would actually be less.

But let’s take that $140,000 and divide it by the 147,000 or so of us who live in Washington County, and it comes to about 95 cents apiece. I spent more than that downloading a Jack White song from iTunes. The petition folks would be more accurate to change “tax dollars” to “tax dollar.”

“This bill will increase Maryland expenses in the future, creating an even larger deficit. (We have a structural deficit of $1.1 billion for 2012.)”

We seem to have a perpetual struggle with structural deficits. We also have a $34 billion general fund budget; $3.5 million would amount to a whopping .01 percent of it. Granted, every little bit hurts. But anybody who believes cutting $3.5 million would make any appreciable difference in structural deficits is delusional.

“We’re going to enforce the immigration laws!”

Taken to its logical end, the implication is we should deport them all. Last year the federal government spent $5 billion — that’s billion with a “B” — deporting some 393,000 people.

What? WE pay for that?

You betcha. At an average rate of $12,500 per alien. It would cost a minimum of $3 billion to $4 billion to deport all 275,000 to 300,000 undocumented immigrants now believed to be living in Maryland.

In other words, they’re not going anywhere. If we don’t want to educate them and we can’t afford to deport them, what DO we do?

If you want to sign the petition, sign it. And if you want to vote against this law if it goes to referendum, that’s exactly what you should do.

But don’t get sucked into the vortex of this inappropriate — and inexcusable — hysteria.

Tamela Baker is a former Herald-Mail reporter and editor.

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