By Sirine Shebaya, ACLU of Maryland & Joanne Lin, Washington Legislative Office at 9:32pm
Last night was a watershed moment for immigrants' rights in Maryland. Faced with federal inaction and a stalemate on immigration reform, Maryland stepped in to ensure that none of its children are left behind.
Voters in the state overwhelmingly approved Question 4, a ballot measure known as the Maryland DREAM Act, which expands access to higher education for all of Maryland's students, regardless of their immigration status. We hope that this move will inspire the incoming Congress to act decisively to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
At the most basic level, yesterday's victory reaffirms Marylanders' commitment to education and to fundamental fairness. More broadly, it represents a symbolic change in the status of a population of children who have long lived in fear and insecurity about their status, even as they and their families contribute to Maryland's culture and economy and form an integral part of the life of communities all around the state. Marylanders have recognized that these children are our children and that they should be enabled to participate more fully in our society. By ensuring they are not charged higher rates than other Maryland children, the Maryland DREAM Act provides residents with the ability to pursue educational opportunity, which has long been an integral part of the American Dream.
While a monumental step forward, the Maryland DREAM Act cannot provide an immigration solution for students and young people in Maryland. Nor does the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals ("DACA") initiative. Announced by President Obama in June, it grants work authorization and temporary reprieves from deportation to individuals eligible for the DREAM Act. DACA does not provide permanent residency or a roadmap to citizenship for the estimated 1.7 million young people who qualify for deferred action. To do this, Congress must pass the federal DREAM Act, a bill first introduced over a decade ago. In 2010, the House passed the DREAM Act, but Senate Republicans blocked the bill from going to the floor for final passage.
Approval of Maryland's DREAM Act coupled with yesterday's record Latino turnout sends a clear message: Americans are demanding that the president and Congress work together on immigration reform that reflects the needs of an inclusive and diverse country. They should engage in productive immigration reform that addresses the needs of the nation while respecting the Constitution and due process. This includes an end to the abusive immigration policies that have produced more than 1.5 million deportations in Obama's first term.
When it comes to immigration reform, as supporters of Maryland's DREAM Act told voters, it must be done because "it's right, and it's fair."