In 2010, the AFL-CIO expressed its strong support for the DREAM Act—a piece of federal legislation that would provide hard-working immigrant students a path to legal status. We noted then that the bill is about children who have grown up in the United States, attended local schools and have demonstrated a sustained commitment to succeed in the educational system, but immigration laws provide no avenue for these students to become legal residents. We also recognized that access to higher education will allow these immigrants to make even stronger contributions to our society, and decrease the number of those forced to live in poverty. Unfortunately, that bill remains stalled in the United States Congress.
Meanwhile, some states have found a way to help these deserving young people, by adopting their own versions of the DREAM Act. Those state laws do not provide a path to legal status because that is an area of authority reserved to the federal government, and therefore they do not conflict with the federal DREAM Act; they simply provide access to an affordable education by allowing qualifying undocumented students to attend college at in-state tuition rates. Thirteen states have adopted such laws. Maryland’s version is particularly important because it also allows active duty service members and veterans to qualify for in-state college tuition.
Not surprisingly, these laws have become a target of right-wing extremists connected to groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—the very same organizations that are leading the nationwide attack on collective bargaining and voting rights. Maryland is currently their bull’s-eye. An organization called “Help Save Maryland,” which links itself to FAIR and Numbers USA—organizations that have been designated “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center—successfully placed the law on the ballot for repeal this fall.
Protecting the Maryland DREAM Act is Important to Working Families
- Repeal would put the other state DREAM Acts at risk. The extremist forces behind the repeal effort are using Maryland as a testing ground. If they are successful in Maryland, they are likely to target the other 12 states that have adopted similar laws.
- Repeal would weaken support for the federal DREAM Act—the only immigration-related legislation that has attracted bipartisan support. The growing number of states that have adopted DREAM legislation sends a powerful message to legislators: There is growing public support for common-sense solutions. Repeal of the Maryland law would accomplish the opposite and may scare away legislators.
- The state DREAM Acts are the best sign of hope that hard-working undocumented youth currently have. In-state tuition bills are balanced measures that benefit immigrant children who were brought to the United States by their parents through no fault of their own, and who are making the right choices in order to lead productive lives. These young people live in our communities, attend our schools and pray in our worship centers. All of us live with the consequences of whether they are provided with hope for the future.
- A growing number of civil society organizations oppose repeal, in part because purveyors of hate are fueling the effort. The Maryland Catholic Conference is among many civil society organizations opposing repeal of the law, and has urged that “we must be wary of an anti-immigration movement afoot in our country, including right here in Maryland, that is fueled in large part by a man who has spent much of his life, albeit at a great distance, playing on people’s fears and prejudices to advance his own racist and classist agenda,” citing the founder of FAIR and Numbers USA.
- Repeal would further empower the ALEC and others whose goals is to reduce the number of people who vote. Every time the labor movement beats back ALEC-inspired initiatives—whether it’s Ohio’s SB 5 or Maryland’s DREAM Act repeal—working people diminish ALEC’s strength. It is in our collective interest to protect the progress we make on the ground and show ALEC just how strong we are.
The failure of the U.S. Congress to act has left a dangerous policy void which the states, reflecting the desperation of the American people, are attempting to fill. Some states—Alabama and Arizona, to name just two—are implementing mean-spirited and punitive bills that make the situation worse, and which the labor movement has strongly opposed. Others, like Maryland, have adopted in-state tuition bills that bring hope and modest relief for a small segment of the population. We will support state-level efforts like the Maryland DREAM Act, but make no mistake: These are not complete solutions. Congress must pass comprehensive immigration reform.
We need to focus on creating jobs and repairing our economy so it works for the 99%—not on tearing down real solutions and engaging in even more partisan payback. We will continue to fight back against political games and hold all of our elected officials accountable for their commitment to do what’s right for our veterans, service members, talented young new Americans and all working people.
This was originally published by the AFL-CIO on March 14, 2012.