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Opponents say Dream Act study’s authors are dreaming

A University of Maryland, Baltimore County, study says allowing illegal immigrants to attend Maryland colleges at in-state tuition prices would have a positive economic impact, but opponents say the authors of that study are dreaming.

The study, released Monday by the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research, says that the long-term impact of the Maryland Dream Act would be a financial positive for the state, but assumes that students — illegal immigrant children who have attended at least three years in Maryland public schools and whose parents have paid income taxes for at least three years — will stay in the state once they complete their education for in-state tuition prices.

The act, passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley in 2011, was petitioned to referendum by opponents.

Students are required to file an application to become a permanent United States citizen within 30 days of being eligible to do so in order to take advantage of the Dream Act’s benefits. The report estimates 435 students would enroll in a Maryland college each year, creating a net positive economic impact of $66 million annually.

That benefit comes from those students completing their degrees, taking better jobs than they would have otherwise, and then spending more and having their income taxed at a higher rate as a result.

“I guess that must be part of the dream. If [the study] turned out bad, it’d be a nightmare,” Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., R-Upper Shore, said Tuesday. “There’s just as much of a chance of there being an economic advantage [to the Dream Act] as there is a chance that any of the slots money is going to go to education.”

Opponents say education money is an important component of the Dream Act, too. Del. Patrick L. McDonough, a Republican who represents parts of Baltimore and Harford counties, pointed out that community colleges and universities accepting illegal immigrant students at in-state tuition rates would lose a substantial amount of money, per student. The UMBC study supports that, saying the institutions could lose $1.8 million each.

“Although the Dream Act is about education, the resources needed are firmly about money,” a statement from McDonough’s office said. “That money we are talking about is a taxpayer subsidy to replace lost funding in order to maintain current operating revenues. The in-state tuition subsidy is a hidden tax increase for Maryland citizens.”

The study, conducted by T.H. Gindling and Marvin Mandell, says institutions could raise tuition or reduce programs to make up the loss. But it also says the net positive impact of the Dream Act is too large to ignore.

Veronica Cool, chairwoman of the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the study supported the business organization’s own research that the Dream Act was about work force development.

“It’s great to hear,” she said. “We have a lot of data, as well.”

She conceded, though, that the UMBC study was imperfect. She said it would be difficult to ensure that every student remained in Maryland after graduation.

“It’s almost impossible to track every single kid, there’s no way to prove that,” Cool said. “[But] it’s an invitation to allow children to improve. This is just valuable, valuable talent that is being wasted. For minimal, minimal investment, allowing these kids to be educated gives them a career.”

Cool said that Maryland could become a national trendsetter if the Dream Act — Question 4 — wins approval on Nov. 6.

“If we do that, then the rest of the country will be able to follow,” Cool said. “They want to see if a Democratic state can get this done. … I think it’s going to be like a tsunami.”

But Smigiel, speaking for many of the skeptics, says the law doesn’t make “economic sense” and sets a poor standard.

“How do you benefit from sending out the message that you no longer have to do what is necessary to become an American citizen,” he said. “These aren’t children, they’re adults, 18 to 30, and you can raise your right hand and take the oath to be a United States citizen.”