Last Tuesday, I was sitting at my desk in the House Ways and Means committee hearing room watching and listening. The hearing room was crowded with people spanning from special interests organizations, to lawmakers, to citizens, statewide, all present for a single purpose – House Bill 1236.
As many already know, but for those who do not, House Bill 1236, entitled Higher Education – Tuition Charges – Maryland High School Students would establish that illegal aliens shall be exempt from paying nonresident tuition at public institutions of higher education in the State of Maryland. The bill would take effect July 1, 2008, and require the governing board of each public institution of higher education to adopt policies to implement this bill.
Although the language specifically contained within the bill defines “specific individuals” as “individuals, other than a student within the meaning of Title 8, § 1101 (A) (15) of the United States Code”, it does not clearly articulate who these “specific individuals” are. In the most, simplest terms; the most basic definition, they are “illegal aliens”.
To permit illegal aliens to receive free public education in the United States has been a highly debated and controversial issue ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s historical decision twenty-six (26) years ago. In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 majority, issued a decision that held a state statute that denied free public education to illegal alien children violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth (14th) Amendment, because denial on the basis of alienage did not further a substantial state interest. The case was Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982). In Plyler, the Court determined that the Texas law was “directed against children, and impose[d] its discriminatory burden on the basis of a legal characteristic over which children can have little control” — namely, due to the fact that their parents had brought them into the United States, illegally.
Since ‘1996’, federal immigration law has prohibited illegal aliens from obtaining a postsecondary education benefit; however, States have found a means around federal law. State Legislatures, including, California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington, have all successfully enacted legislation that provides in-state tuition benefits for “illegal aliens” based on where a student went to high school, not immigration status.
In Maryland, the ‘2003’ General Assembly passed House Bill 253, entitled, Higher Education – Resident Tuition Charges – Immigrant Students and United States Military Personnel and Dependents. The bill permitted illegal aliens to receive in-state tuition at a public institution of higher education in Maryland; however, former Governor Bob Ehrlich vetoed the legislation shortly thereafter.
In his veto letter, the Governor gave several policy reasons for vetoing the bill. Foremost, to grant in-state status to illegal aliens would violate the federal law enacted in ‘1996’, and would reward illegal behavior. Governor Ehrlich also addressed the fiscal cost to the State could be potentially large. He also opined that additional community college students included in the enrollment counts would increase the State’s obligations under the Senator John A. Cade funding formula. Finally, the Governor raised concerns that the bill would allow undocumented immigrants to take in-state slots from legal Maryland residents.
Despite the former Governor’s position, the very same legislation that was vetoed in ‘2003’ was resurrected last year during the ‘2007’ General Session. State legislators that were proponents of the bill believed that it would have better success in becoming Maryland Law as a result in the change of administrations. House Bill 6, entitled Higher Education – Tuition Charges – Maryland High School Students, was only successful in passing in the House.
After two (2) unsuccessful attempts to enact said legislation, the Democratic Leadership of the Maryland General Assembly has once again re-introduced the same legislation during this year’s General Session. House Bill 1236, entitled Higher Education – Tuition Charges – Maryland High School Students was heard before the House Ways and Means Standing Committee on Tuesday, March 5, 2008.
As I sat in my chair bearing witness to the same testimony that I heard in 2007, and now in 2008, I could not help but wonder why so many of my Democratic colleagues are so adamant to make this legislation become Maryland Law. Much to their displeasure, in my humble opinion, I share the in same unanimous position as my constituents and the citizens of Maryland, that this legislation is unnecessary and unwanted.
According the analysis conducted by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services (MDLS), if House Bill 1236 were to become law, the effects on Maryland’s General fund expenditures for the Senator John A. Cade funding formula would “increase by at least $418,500 in FY 2011 due to an increase in the enrollments of qualified in-state students at community colleges. General fund expenditures for Baltimore City Community College could also increase minimally beginning in FY 2011.”1 (emphasis added) Moreover, the MDLS projected by fiscal 2013, the additional general fund expenditures resulting from this bill could exceed $1.2 million.2
|(in dollars)||FY 2009||FY 2010||FY 2011||FY 2012||FY 2013|
Note:() = decrease; GF = general funds; FF = federal funds; SF = special funds; – = indeterminate effect3
These numbers clearly substantiate the very same reasons represented in Governor Ehrlich’s letter after he vetoed the legislation in ‘2003’. Furthermore, the money generated to fund this egregious benefit would ultimately derive from the wallets of every citizen, legally residing in the State of Maryland – yet, another burden that the General Assembly and Governor O’Malley may place upon the shoulders of every Maryland taxpayer.
Secondly, in Plyler, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision addressed the fact that the state statute imposed a discriminatory burden on illegal alien children that were brought to the United States, illegally, by their parents. They had little or no control over their own decisions or lives at that time. Unlike here, the individuals that House Bill 1236 attempts to aid are not children, they are grown adults that are fully capable of making an educated decision on whether to become a United States citizen that will allow themselves to receive the rights and privileges under the United States and Maryland Constitutions or to remain a criminal.
As to the States that have already passed legislation that provides in-state tuition benefits for “illegal aliens” based on where a student went to high school, not immigration status, some are having trepidations on their decision. According to a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures notes that at least four (4) of the states that have passed laws providing in-state tuition benefits to illegal aliens have since considered repealing the laws.4
Without forgetting to state the obvious, these individuals are living in the United States illegally. To permit these individuals to have the same rights and privileges as a United States citizen or a person lawfully present in the United States under federal law is unconstitutional and unlawful. Yet, while they reside in our country, breaking our laws – our State Government finds it tolerable and wants them to receive a benefit of free higher education.
When an individual breaks a federal, state, or local law they are considered a criminal punishable by the law. An illegal alien is committing a criminal act by illegally residing within the borders of the United States, so why when it comes to the issue of higher education does the Maryland State Legislature continue to digress from enforcing the laws on illegal immigration and strive to reward these individuals who violate our laws, daily. If we fail to enforce our laws now, we stand to lose everything in the future.
To pass this legislation or any other form of its kind goes against the very fibers of our Constitutions (United States and Maryland), the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Plyler, and the federal Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.
It is for these reasons, I oppose House Bill 1236.
Member, House of Delegates
7th Legislative District