President Obama's decision to stop deporting young illegal immigrants has become a rallying cry for supporters of a controversial Maryland law that would allow undocumented students to pay lower, in-state tuition rates at community colleges.
Obama announced the policy change two days after Maryland's highest court cleared the way for the state's tuition legislation to be placed on the ballot this November, giving voters a chance to strike down a measure passed by state lawmakers.
Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the measure into law last year, but it never took effect because opponents immediately launched a petition drive to get it on the ballot.
Maryland's Court of Appeals last week approved those petitions, placing the tuition program on the ballot despite a last-minute challenge by two unnamed illegal immigrants.
Obama announced Friday that the United States would no longer deport illegal immigrants who were brought to this country when they were younger than 16, who graduated high school or served in the military, and who didn't pose a criminal or security threat. Those immigrants would also be temporarily allowed to work legally in the U.S.
O'Malley, who followed Obama's lead in pushing for the tuition breaks for illegal immigrants, is hoping the president's decision will increase support for the tuition program.
"I wholeheartedly support President Obama and [Homeland Security] Secretary [Janet] Napolitano for taking this important action, which is a step in the right direction towards comprehensive immigration reform," O'Malley said. "I call on Maryland residents to build on this momentum by supporting our own Dream Act to give our children a chance to gain the skills and education they need to compete and win in the future."
Opponents of the Maryland bill are using Obama's announcement to cast November's ballot vote as a referendum on the president's immigration policies.
"In the November election, Marylanders will have the unique opportunity to indicate two things: whether they want their hard-earned money to pay for college for illegal aliens, and also whether we want to enforce existing federal immigration law," said Maryland Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington County. "With Obama's decision [on Friday], Maryland's decision in November will become even more important."
Obama said he took action because Congress has refused to pass his so-called Dream Act, which would establish a path toward citizenship for certain illegal immigrants.
Facing waning support among Hispanics after failing to deliver the comprehensive immigration reform he promised them in the 2008 campaign, Obama's policy shift appeared aimed not only at shoring up support in that rapidly growing voting bloc but also to win over other liberal supporters.