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Whose dream is it?

July 01, 2011|By GEORGE MICHAEL

When I was in kindergarten, I really hated it when another kid butted in line. I wanted to get in their face and push back. It didn’t seem fair to jump ahead.

In a way, that same feeling surfaces now when I think of our state leaders granting in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants.

You can argue, as some do, that they didn’t choose where they were born — that since they are here, we have a responsibility to provide for their education. That seems like a pretty shallow excuse. Somebody made choices about coming here illegally. What responsibility do the parents have in this situation?  

Furthermore, if we help undocumented students get a college education, who will be able to hire them?

The bottom line is that illegal immigrants are breaking the law. And now, the State of Maryland is offering them a 67 percent discount on the cost of college. This defies common sense. According to the University of Maryland website, tuition for state residents is $8,000; nonresident tuition is $24,000 and is slightly less for foreign students. A $16,000 difference is significant.

Thursday was the deadline for opponents of this so-called “Dream Act” to get enough signatures to bring the issue to a vote by the electorate. By all accounts, they should have enough signatures to allow the issue to be put on the ballot.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union has gotten involved in the debate by claiming there is potential fraud in the system used in the petition drive (a computer automatically filled in names and addresses, based on the voter registration database).

With all the scrutiny of the petitions, fraud is not the real problem. What are they afraid of? Letting ordinary citizens vote on this matter?  

My biggest problem with the whole idea is the phrase “in-state.” How do you qualify for “in-state” rates when you are not legally “in-country?” I would find it much easier to accept these undocumented students attending college in a Maryland school if it were on the same basis as foreign students here on student visas. Is there any country around the world that would allow an American without a visa to attend one of their schools?  

Last year, I was able to help a friend’s wife, new to America, get her “green card.” There is a process for coming to this country to live and work. A review of the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website is very informative. There are many options for foreigners who wish to travel, visit, work or go to school in America. There are temporary work permits, student visas, visas for political asylum status and opportunities to apply for permanent residency.  

The naturalization process is a long but worthy road to follow. During a ceremony at the federal courthouse in Martinsburg, W.Va., last year, I witnessed the swearing-in of 60 new citizens, people from a number of different countries. Most of them would likely do better on a test of civics and government than the typical high school graduates born and raised in the United States. I felt proud to be an American. As a federal officer there said, “They did it the right way.”

Is our state so wealthy and our universities so well-financed that they don’t need or want the extra tuition? Would more spots be available for out-of-state students paying the total package of $38,000, which includes room and board, for the University of Maryland?

Despite our current problems, many people still want to come to America. We are what President Reagan called “the last great hope for the world.” Poor all around the world are desperate for a better life. Is it fair that some have more access than others because of our porous southern border?

I am glad Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington, and other Maryland leaders are working to bring this issue to a referendum. Local talk radio reveals a great amount of dissatisfaction. Much of this is due to our state leaders pushing this through despite all the questions about it.

So, why was this law passed? Was it in the name of compassion for hard-pressed students? Or does it provide a larger voter base for the powerful political constituencies in our state? Maybe the Dream Act is a “dream come true” for some politicians.

George Michael, who lives in Williamsport, is a former principal of Grace Academy. His email address is skythorn33@aol.com.

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