January 21, 2011

Montgomery College sued for giving in-county tuition to illegal immigrants

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Montgomery College Rockville campus

Montgomery College's Rockville campus. Photo from Montgomery College's website.

By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

Three Montgomery County taxpayers are suing the community college there to halt its policy of granting its low in-county tuition rate to all recent graduates of county high schools, even if they are illegal immigrants.

The conservative nonprofit group Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court in Rockville on Thursday.

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said the Montgomery College policy “violates both Maryland and federal law,” and has cost taxpayers an estimated $5.8 million over the last three years. In-county residents currently pay $102 per course hour – including anyone who graduated from a county high school in the past three years. Out-of-state residents pay $284 per course hour.

Montgomery College is following a policy similar to that advocated by supporters of the federal DREAM act, and proposed for Maryland this session by Sen. Victor Ramirez, D-Prince George’s.

Montgomery College Rockville campus

Montgomery College's Rockville campus. Photo from Montgomery College's website.

“The senator’s bill would not be needed” if the Montgomery County policy was already legal, said Del. Pat McDonough. The Baltimore County Republican said he got involved in the controversy when Montgomery residents contacted him because their local officials were not responsive.

McDonough has sponsored a number of bills in recent years focused on curtailing illegal immigration. The delegate said the Montgomery College policy is “taking slots from American citizens and legal immigrants.”

He said he suspects this same policy is occurring at the community college level elsewhere in the state.

“On a fundamental level it’s just grossly unfair,” said Michael Philips, the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff. Plus, “it’s illegal.”

College officials said they had not received the lawsuit on Thursday, but issued a statement defending the policy and criticizing the involvement of a delegate who does not represent the county.

In November, the college trustees affirmed the long-standing policy that  “Montgomery College offers its lowest tuition rate to all recent Montgomery County Public School graduates,” the statement said.

The college statement made no reference to immigration status.

McDonough said Attorney General Doug Gansler is investigating the policy to see if it violates existing state law.