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Local: Education

Obama immigration move causes confusion on Md. tuition measure

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Local,Maryland,Education,Hayley Peterson

President Obama's decision to stop deporting young illegal immigrants is causing problems for some Democrats in Maryland, where Gov. Martin O'Malley is trying to build support for a state law that would grant in-state tuition rates to illegals.

O'Malley was hoping Obama's policy change would help build support for the Maryland Dream Act, which would give in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants who went to a Maryland high school and whose parents have paid state taxes. O'Malley signed the measure into law last year, but it never took effect because opponents immediately started a petition drive to get it on the ballot.

But Obama's move instead has generated confusion around the Maryland law, according to its supporters, in reigniting a national debate over the federal Dream Act -- which unlike the state law, would provide a path to citizenship for certain illegal immigrants.

"We have some work to do in explaining that this is about in-state tuition, and this is separate from the federal Dream Act, which is much more comprehensive and far more sweeping," said Kristin Ford, a spokeswoman for Educating Maryland Kids, the coalition that is leading the campaign for Maryland's Dream Act.

The coalition plans to meet in Annapolis on Wednesday to spell out the differences between the two measures.

"Our challenge going forward, particularly in light of the president's announcement, is to educate voters who don't understand what the [Maryland] law does," Ford said.

Obama renewed his push for the federal Dream Act last week in a speech from the White House, in which he announced a policy change that would grant a two-year deportation delay for illegal immigrants who meet certain qualifications. Eligible immigrants would be temporarily allowed to work legally in the U.S.

The announcement reinvigorated opponents of the state Dream Act, who are casting 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.

Meanwhile, O'Malley is still hopeful that Obama can help raise money for his campaign to uphold the state measure.

"With President Obama's leadership, we have new momentum as we seek to become the first state in America to fully defend Dream legislation at the ballot box," O'Malley said in a recent fundraising email to supporters. "But we can't win this campaign alone. To help me and President Obama defend the Maryland Dream Act, please consider a contribution."

hpeterson@washingtonexaminer.com

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