By Megan Poinski
After a marathon 2½ hours of sometimes acrimonious debate and a dozen failed amendments, the House of Delegates Thursday afternoon gave preliminary approval to a bill giving illegal immigrants in-state tuition at community colleges and state universities.
The bill, which passed the Senate on a close vote three weeks ago, allows young illegal immigrants who graduated from Maryland high schools to get tuition at in-state rates. In order to qualify, the student needs to:
* Have attended a Maryland high school for at least three years.
* Show the student’s parents or legal guardian have paid taxes.
* Submit an affidavit saying he or she intends to legally seek citizenship within 30 days of being able to do so.
* Enroll in community college for the first two years.
* Register for the draft with Selective Service.
Del. Anne Kaiser, floor leader for the debate, said that many of the people who the bill would impact came to the country illegally as very young children, and they had no part in the decision to come to the United States illegally.
“Many people think this is a priority, and we are investing in our future,” she said.
Many Republican delegates felt otherwise, and several offered amendments that failed. The losing amendments included:
* Requiring that U.S. citizens can also qualify for in-state tuition under the parameters set out in the bill. Bill proponents argued that this would make it harder for anyone to qualify for in-state tuition, since citizens only need to live in Maryland for 12 months in order to qualify.
* Requiring students to have legal presence in the U.S. to receive scholarships, loans or grants. There is a stand-alone bill to do this working through the committee process, bill proponents said.
* Requiring the comptroller to compare the information submitted to Social Security or tax identification numbers to prove that a parent or guardian is paying taxes. Bill proponents said this violated federal confidentiality law.
* Only giving students in-state tuition if they can submit actual proof of filing for legal status in the United States. Bill proponents said immigration law has too many different processes and timelines for someone to get legal status in order for this to work.
* Requiring annual reports on tuition rates for each student in the program and information on all public aid that student receives. Bill proponents said this is already in the bill.
* Allowing local governments to choose whether or not to support in-state tuition for illegals at their community colleges. Bill proponents said this type of amendment has been rejected at all levels, and there have been no complaints about the bill’s potential cost from any county or community college.
* Requiring the comptroller to verify that each Social Security or tax identification number submitted as proof of paying taxes is valid.
* Changing the bill title to “The Taxpayers’ Tuition Discount Benefit for Illegal Aliens.”
* Substituting the term “illegal alien” for each mention in the bill of “undocumented immigrant individual.”
* Requiring a student to prove eligibility for employment in order to receive a college degree. Bill proponents said this is too much of a burden on the colleges.
* Requiring that a student’s parents or legal guardians have both had taxes withheld and filed income tax returns. Bill proponents said that contractors have no taxes withheld, and there are income categories that do not have to file state taxes.
* Making the bill expire in 2014. Bill proponents said that the issue can be revisited at any point in time.
The bill will come before the House for final consideration on Friday morning.