This week Maryland has the chance to recognize some of its taxpayers, give some of its students a future and help its economy by meeting skilled workforce needs.
All the legislature has to do is enact SB 591/ HB 1236 that would give in-state tuition to attend public colleges to undocumented students who attended a Maryland secondary school for at least two years and graduated (The bill would not give immigrants access to government loans).
Conservatives dredge up well-worn reasons for denying young high school kids the opportunity to continue their education. None of the campaign against SB 591/HB 1236 makes much sense, and all of it bears traces of lingering racism and resurgent nativism.
The most resonant argument against SB 591/HB 1236 is that by enacting the legislation, Maryland would become a magnet for “illegal immigration.” The magnet myth assumes Maryland would give an unfair advantage to immigrant kids, and would cost Maryland taxpayers a lot of money. Not true.
At its core, the argument comes down to this: If the state gives in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant high school graduates, the state, like a magnet, will attract hordes of “illegal aliens.” This logic assumes that Maryland is exceptional (that it is a magnet!), and would indeed draw “alien hordes” of college wannabes to the state. It also assumes that our public universities would be overrun by “illegal aliens,” taking slots from our own (citizen) children, and that we as taxpayers would bear the cost.
Maryland is not exceptional. This law would merely bring Maryand into line with ten other states (California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington).
Nor have I ever read about prospective emigrants risking their lives to cross the border because they wanted to attend BCCC, UMBC, Towson or UM-Baltimore (Sorry). In fact, a November 2005 article in the Boston Globe notes only modest increases in the numbers of undocumented students attending public institutions in the states (outside of Texas) that already enacted versions of this legislation.
The young people in question were brought to this country by parents seeking a better life. Most of these kids had no choice in the matter; many have no memories of their place of birth, and few were of age to consider college when they first arrived. For all intent and purposes, these kids are residents of the state and should be treated as such for tuition purposes. In other words, the proposed legislation is dealing with a pretty innocent bunch of typical (American) high school graduates. That’s all.
Nor would the legislation engage in a bait and switch with taxpayers over the cost of college. The legislation involves no financial aid (state or federal), and portends no cost onto the shoulders of the state university system to implement the policy.
Nor would taxpayers be subsidizing some hidden advantage for undocumented students. All students regardless of immigration status would have to be accepted to college on merit.
The promise of higher education merely completes the agreement the Supreme Court made with them for a public school education.
All that Maryland would being doing by passing this legislation is according itself with the Supreme Court, which in Plyler v Doe (1982) declared that undocumented children have the right to a public school education. It makes little sense for Maryland to throw away the investment its taxpayers already made on many fine talented youth, by failing to cap off the investment with a college education (not free mind you, just on terms approximate to those given other prospective in-state college students).
In an economy that has dire need for skilled and talented young people, in-state tuition would provide an opportunity for talented youth to stay in Maryland, and to contribute to the economy and their communities as productive Marylanders.