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Maryland's 'Dream Act' Suspended Amid Petition Drive for Referendum

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AP

A new law offering in-state tuition breaks to some illegal immigrants in Maryland has been suspended after opponents collected tens of thousands of signatures seeking to force the issue onto the 2012 ballot for a referendum.

Maryland's version of the "Dream Act" was to take effect Friday. But Republican Delegate Neil Parrot and other critics flooded the Maryland secretary of state's office in Annapolis with 74,000 signatures – more than the 55,000 needed – on Thursday evening before the midnight deadline, according to secretary of state spokesman Steve Ackerman.

Opponents turned in 60,000 signatures last month but only 47,000 were certified by the State Board of Elections, Ackerman told FoxNews.com, adding that the rest were tossed for various reasons.

The state board has until mid-July to certify the signatures presented Thursday evening, but it appears that opponents have easily gathered the 8,000 additional signatures needed. If so, the law will be suspended at least until the 2012 election. 

The Maryland chapter of the ACLU is challenging the petitions collected online. The group sent a letter in May to the state board asking that the system's legality be examined.

"We continue to think that online system through which some of the petitions are being gathered is susceptible to fraud and violates state election law," ACLU spokeswoman Meredith Curtis told FoxNews.com.

"So we're waiting to hear back from the State Board of Elections about the petitions. Our focus is on the legalities and integrity," she said.

The Maryland bill is different from the federal bill of the same name. The federal version offers a pathway to legal residency to illegal immigrants brought to the country as children who go to college or serve in the military. The state version just offers in-state tuition breaks to illegal immigrants. That version is already law in 10 other states, including California, New York Texas and Illinois.

The Maryland measure was projected to cost taxpayers $3.5 million per year by 2016, according to a legislative analysis, the Baltimore Sun reported. Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the measure into law in May. But critics who say the bill will give illegal immigrants better treatment than Americans and legal immigrants, thanks to existing diversity policies at universities, launched a petition drive to derail it and give voters the final say.

"We can't break the rules for some people," Parrott told the newspaper. "We are a nation of laws."