ANNAPOLIS – A bill to grant undocumented immigrants in-state tuition at public colleges and universities was blasted Wednesday by a delegate who called the proposal “fundamentally wrong.”
“We are encouraging people to come to Maryland illegally because we are rewarding what they have done,” said Delegate Herb McMillan, R-Anne Arundel.
The bill received preliminary approval Wednesday from the House of Delegates. It would allow undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition provided they attend a Maryland high school for at least three years, graduate and pay income tax withholding for at least a year.
The student would also have to sign an affidavit affirming they will apply to become a permanent resident.
“This is only rewarding the hard work they’ve done in their community and their school,” said Delegate Victor Ramirez, D-Prince George’s, who was born in El Salvador.
But McMillan said illegal immigrants would fill college spots that should rightfully go to Maryland citizens and accused Democrats of being afraid of the legislation’s consequences.
“You don’t want to know how many Americans won’t be admitted,” he said. “You don’t want to know how many illegal immigrants will be admitted.”
McMillan and Delegate Patrick McDonough, R-Baltimore County, tried to dilute the bill with five amendments, all defeated. Among them were proposals to grant automatic college admission to every Maryland citizen who met academic requirements and limit the bill to legal immigrants.
Discussion on the amendments prompted visible frustration from delegates and became so heated that House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, had to remind lawmakers of proper debate etiquette.
A similar bill was vetoed last year by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who said he was worried Maryland citizens would be denied college admission in favor of illegal immigrants and the bill would encourage illegal activity.
Ehrlich’s concerns have been addressed and this year’s bill has been “tightened up,” said Delegate Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, the sponsor. The legislation had no opponents during its hearing last week in a House committee and Hixson said the amendments offered Wednesday were out-of-order.
McMillan “was very mean-spirited,” Hixson said. “He’s always trying to make people second-class citizens. That seems to be his agenda.”
Delegates also fought over whether having income taxes withheld – the requirement in the bill – was equivalent to paying income taxes.
McMillan and other Republicans said many illegal immigrants have income tax withholdings returned, while Democrats argued that to receive the money back, they would have to file paperwork with the government, which many illegal immigrants are unlikely to do.
Undocumented immigrants often work low-wage, service industry jobs and pay property and sales taxes, which should be enough to convince Republicans to support the bill, said Delegate Doyle Niemann, D-Prince George’s.
“It’s fine for them to make your bed. It’s fine for them to serve your food,” he said. “It’s not fine for them to go to school.”
The bill is expected to pass the House of Delegates Thursday and move quickly through the Senate over the next several weeks.
Ehrlich is “not enthusiastic” about the bill but has not decided if he will veto it should it come to his desk, said spokesman Henry Fawell.
Hixson, however, said she was not worried about the governor’s action because the bill would have enough votes to be “veto proof.” -30- CNS-3-24-04