ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Dario Muralles left Guatemala (search) with his family when he was 3, has lived in Maryland for 14 years, and his mother pays taxes here. But the high school senior from Montgomery County would have to pay out-of-state tuition if he wants to attend a public college or university next year.
He appealed to a House of Delegates committee Tuesday to change that.
"They've worked hard," Muralles said of graduating immigrants. "They've succeeded. Now they want the opportunity to show everyone what they can do."
A bill sponsored by Democratic Delegate Sheila Hixson would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition (search) for public colleges and universities provided they meet academic, tax and other requirements. Out-of-state tuition is up to $11,000 greater than in-state tuition and out of reach for many immigrant families.
"This bill is an investment in our future," Hixson said.
Similar legislation was vetoed last year by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (search), who said it violated federal law, encouraged illegal behavior, and could take spots from Maryland residents wanting to attend state colleges and universities.
This year's bill has been adjusted to address the governor's concerns, Hixson said while speaking before the House Ways and Means Committee, which she chairs.
Undocumented immigrants wanting to receive in-state tuition would now have to attend a Maryland high school for at least three years, graduate and pay income tax for at least a year. The student would also have to sign an affidavit affirming they will apply to become a permanent resident.
In addition, Congress is considering a repeal of the provision of federal law that Ehrlich said the state would be violating.
Seven states grant in-state tuition to immigrants. That left the once-controversial law with no opponents at Tuesday's hearing, though an Ehrlich spokeswoman said the governor does not yet have a position on the bill.
But a hodgepodge of supporters ranging from business organizations to the Catholic Church (search) to cultural groups to colleges and universities said it would allow a growing segment of Maryland's population to contribute fully to the state's economy.
The bill will not reward illegal activity, supporters said, because the students going to college were children when their parents immigrated. People with a college degree have higher salaries and pay more in taxes, they added.
"You are going to get a return on that investment," said Montgomery College President Charlene Nunley. "It will help me to be able to change lives."
Montgomery College has about 350 undocumented immigrant students, according to legislative analysts, and there are about 400 undocumented immigrants attending community colleges throughout the state.
Undocumented teenage immigrants have made Maryland their home and want tuition payments to reflect that, Muralles said.
"I've grown in this culture and I assimilated," he said. "The most important effect is that [the bill] will let us pay a reasonable price."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.