by Professor Byron L. Warnken on March 14, 2012


In 2011, the Maryland General Assembly enacted a law that will permit some illegal immigrants, in some circumstances, to qualify for in-state tuition at Maryland’s public colleges and universities.  The law provides that, in order to qualify for in-state tuition at a state four-year institution, an illegal immigrant must (1) live, work, and pay taxes in Maryland for at least three years; and (2) complete two years of community college.  I applaud the Maryland General Assembly.  It is the fair thing to do.  Moreover, it better educates those who live in Maryland, which serves all Marylanders because better education leads to better jobs, which generates more tax dollars for all of us.

The opponents of the law argue that Maryland should not allocate its precious financial resources in a way that permits illegal immigrants to receive a subsidy, at taxpayer expense, by paying in-state tuition.  They argue that in-state tuition should be restricted to United States citizens, regardless of how long a person has lived in Maryland.  They fear that the law will encourage “foreignization” of our higher education system and that, by increasing the number of illegal immigrants, we will make our higher education system less American.  I disagree.

The statutory prerequisites to qualify for in-state tuition means that illegal immigrants must first become truly engaged in our society before reaping some of its benefits.  What better way to make these individuals become citizens – even if only de facto citizens – than by allowing them to (1) pay for an education, (2) earn a college degree, (3) better themselves and their families with better paying jobs, (4) pay higher taxes, and (5) stimulate our State’s economy.  The people who will benefit from this law are not people who just scaled a fence in the night.  Mostly, they are the innocent children of those people.  For most of those who will benefit from the law, they are Americans, in that this is the only country that have ever known.

Other than Native Americans, we were all once immigrants.  Immigrants have contributed immensely to our country.  They constructed the railroads, the dams, and the skyscrapers.  They have truly contributed to fabric of what we know as America.  Denying these individuals a Maryland higher education, on the same basis as other Marylanders, is to “buy into” the fear of dilution of our culture.  The American fabric, since the beginning, has included a diversity of peoples who collectively make up this amazing, complex, and wonderful country.

It is refreshing to know that the Maryland General Assembly embraces this modern notion of our ever-changing society.  It validates the image of this country to millions of immigrants throughout our history.  Those of us who were born citizens have a great, or a great-great, or a great-great-great someone who came to America in search of a better life for themselves and for their children.  I applaud the legislature for its foresight, particularly when it is not “politically correct” to say or do things favorable for the 4% of us who are illegal immigrants.

This issue is controversial.  Opponents of the law have successfully petitioned to have the issue placed on the ballot in November 2012.  I hope that when Marylanders go to the polls, they will be fair minded.  I hope that they will open their hearts and their public colleges and universities to these young people, who like our great-greats, want to meaningfully participate in the most wonderful nation in the history of the planet.  We will see whether common sense and fairness prevail over narrow mindedness and bigotry.

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