Approximately 85 of Maryland's religious organizations, schools and neighborhood groups are banding together to fight for state legislation known as the Dream Act, which would allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition.
The group, led by the Maryland Industrial Areas Foundation, a coalition of liberal activists, consists mostly of groups from Montgomery and Howard counties and Baltimore. On Wednesday, the group gathered 70 clergy at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Silver Spring to train them in the language and the teachings of the grassroots movement.
Wednesday's session was part of a larger mobilization effort by advocates of the 2011 law that grants in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants who attended high school in Maryland. Opponents of the law collected 132,000 signatures to challenge the measure on the ballot, and now it awaits a Maryland Court of Appeals decision that will determine whether it goes to voters in November.
"The goal of the whole session was to equip people, especially leaders in their communities, to be able to speak in an informed way about the Dream law, so that people can be informed either through sermons or lectures or presentations or -- as I'm planning to do -- through discussions and classes," said the Rev. James Isaacs, a priest at St. James' Episcopal Church in Potomac.
Participants were taught to frame the law as an issue of fairness and one that aligns with Judeo-Christian ideology.
"This law is about educating Maryland's children," said Bishop Douglas Miles of the Koinonia Baptist Church in Baltimore. "When you start talking to people and they see it's a matter of fairness, most people, people who are rational say, 'I don't oppose this law.' "
Proponents of the Dream Act are benefiting from the millions of dollars Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has pledged in support of the measure, said state Del. Pat McDonough, R-Baltimore and Harford counties. But McDonough was confident the fundraising and campaigning efforts would not hinder his efforts to overturn the law.
The clergy at Wednesday's training session are out of touch with their congregations, he said. "They're promoting the idea of breaking the law, and their [congregants] are going to work for us."