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Baltimore City Council committee supports in-state tuition for undocumented residents

Above: Baltimore City high school students were out in force during a City Council meeting voicing their support for legislation that would allow for undocumented students to receive in-state tuition.

A host of adults spoke in Baltimore City Hall last night on behalf a bill that would allow immigrant students to pay in-state-tuition to attend college in Maryland. Educational professionals, business owners and faith leaders packed the chambers.

Some of the most compelling testimony, though, came from the students themselves, as they explained to members of the Baltimore City Council how passage of the bill, introduced by Sen. Victor Ramirez, would help them.

“”If the legislation passes I would be able to take more classes,” explained Missael Garcia, “transfer to a university, and spend more time on school work instead of working to pay off the higher tuition.”

Garcia, who graduated in 2010 from Youth Opportunity School in Baltimore,  has been attending community college but hasn’t been able to register this semester because he isn’t able to afford out-of-state rates.

After listening to the testimony of dozens of supporters of the bill, filed on behalf of undocumented residents who are denied in-state tuition, a council committee approved a resolution supporting legislation Ramirez’ bill, SB167.

CASA de Maryland was the organization that rallied the supporters to come and speak out on behalf of immigrant students’ rights before city lawmakers. Elizabeth Alex, lead organizer for the Baltimore office of CASA, said the turnout was significant. “The fact that we filled the council chambers and not a single opponent showed up shows the extent of support for this legislation,” Alex said.

There was a large contingent of teachers and students from Towson University at the meeting, including Dr. Santiago Solis, senior director of the  Latin Student Development program and director of the Center for Student Diversity.

Immigrant students pay a price

Solis spoke out on the extent to which immigrant students are penalized under the current system.

“Undocumented children pay three times as much as in-state residents at Towson University,” said Solis. “These students who were brought here by their parents are in limbo and feel invisible and marginalized.”

In-state students at Towson University paid $2,668 during the spring term, compared to out-of-state and international students who paid $8,397 for the same term, he said. Solis went on to explain that this pricing discrepancy included not just Towson but most of Maryland’s community colleges and universities.

Solis went on to clarify that the proposed legislation doesn’t lower the price of tuition across the board, and only applies to those undocumented students who have spent at least two years in a Maryland high school.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said she was stunned by the disparity, especially after hearing  testimony that in many families, younger siblings qualify for in-state tuition while their older siblings. That, Clark said “is un-American”.

“All the money that we invest in primary education is being thrown out the window,” she said.

Antonio Hernandez, a junior at Towson University majoring in International Studies, was one of the most outspoken of the students the evening. Hernandez volunteers during the summer with  the Hispanic Youth Institute at Towson University, where he helps teach hundreds of Hispanic high school students from Maryland about the resources available when applying to college.

“I’ve seen hundreds of students who have come who are excited about going to college, who because of their status as an undocumented student, can’t afford it,” said Hernandez. “As a U.S. citizen I face problems when it comes to paying tuition and I don’t want to see others have to pay two to three times as much.”

But despite the success in the City Council those in attendance were quick to recognize that this was the first step in a longer march towards the General Assembly later this month. The bill faces opposition from conservatives in Annapolis and, judging by the comments on this December blog post about the bill in The Baltimore Sun, among many Marylanders.

Del. Pat McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican, has introduced a package of bills that crack down on illegal immigrants, among them a bill that would specifically ban colleges from giving them in-state tuition.

“It’s not fair to law-abiding students, and it’s not fair to taxpayers,” said McDonough told the Sun, which noted that he has condemned a Montgomery County community college for giving in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.

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