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VOICES

Student’s Dream of Attending U-Md. Now A Reality With Passing of Md. DREAM Act

Laura Choque was 15 years old when she learned that she was not a legal citizen.

“All my friends were getting their licenses,” Choque, who is originally from Peru, said. “That’s when I realized that I didn’t have a Social Security number. No Social Security number, no license.”

But what really upset Choque was not being able to get a driver’s license – it was the reality that she would be ineligible for in-state college tuition.

“I hoped and prayed to God that somehow, I’d find a way to attend a four-year college,” said Choque, who applied to several colleges in Maryland.

“I finally got accepted to the University of Maryland, but I knew tuition would be too much,” she said. Choque declined the acceptance letter and opted to enroll in Montgomery College instead.

Choque’s story is representative of many Dreamers, or people who came to the U.S. illegally as children and now face barriers to pursuing higher education.

But with the passing of Maryland’s version of the Dream Act, Choque will now be able to realize her dream of attending the University of Maryland.

After nearly a decade of rejection in the Maryland General Assembly, Maryland voters approved the state’s version of the Dream Act by a wide margin of 58 percent to 42 percent on Tues. Nov. 6.

Undocumented immigrants – who previously had to pay out-of-state tuition for Maryland colleges and universities – will now be able to pay in-state tuition rates, if they meet certain requirements.

Maryland is now the 12th state in the nation to pass some version of the federal Dream Act and the first state to pass the act by popular vote, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

“I was so happy, I was crying,” said Karen Guzmán, a University of Maryland senior who co-organized a Dream Act rally at the university in late October.

“It’s really personal to me. Some of my cousins are Dreamers. Some of my friends are Dreamers too. Just knowing they would have the opportunity to afford to apply to Maryland. It’s just amazing,” she said.

“I thought the margin of victory would be a lot closer, maybe something like 61 percent to 51 percent,” said Laura Gabriela Choque, a University of Maryland senior, and also cousin with the same name as the aforementioned Laura Choque.

“In Montgomery County, there was a lot of support and signs that said ‘Vote Yes’ for Question Four. But in Howard County, there were a lot of signs against Question Four,” she said.

The difference between out-of-state tuition and in-state tuition is significant. For this academic year, in-state tuition for the University of Maryland is $7,175 and out-of-state tuition is $25,554, according to the university’s admissions website. Undocumented students are ineligible for any federal financial assistance.

In order to receive in-state tuition, students must have been brought to the U.S. as children, attended a Maryland high school for at least three years, prove that their parents have paid state income taxes for the past three years, and earn 60 credits at a Maryland community college before transferring to a four-year institution.

“It’s very restrictive,” said Guzmán. “People think it’s some kind of amnesty for undocumented immigrants, but it’s not. A lot of people I know wouldn’t even qualify for the Dream Act,” she said.

Opponents of the legislation said that the admittance of undocumented students would deny other student’s spots, and that it was unfair for undocumented students to benefit from state-funded higher education institutes.

The proposed legislation was vetoed multiple times since 2003.

The first version of the Maryland Dream Act was first proposed in 2003. It was approved by the Maryland General Assembly, but then vetoed by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The in-state tuition legislation was re-introduced to the House of Delegates in 2007 by Senator Victor D. Ramirez (D-Prince George’s). The bill passed through the House, but rejected by the Senate.

Gov. Martin O’ Malley (D) signed the Dream Act in May 2011. However, opponents raised enough signatures to allow the legislation to go up for referendum on the presidential ballot. The Dream Act was one of several highly contested questions up for referendum on the state ballot.

“This is a huge victory,” said Guzmán. “But honestly, it’s not everything. We need legislation on the federal level,” she said, referring to federal immigration reform.

“I came here when I was seven years old, but I’ve spent the rest of my life here. This is where my friends and family are, and I couldn’t imagine it any other way,” said Choque.

“If I’m not able to get permanent residency, I’d at least like to be able to work here, to give back to this country,” said Choque, who dreams of becoming a dentist. “This is my home.”

This article orginally appeared in La Voz Latina, a student publication at the University of Maryland that receives funding and training as a member of the Campus Progress journalism network.

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