By Glynis Kazanjian
The energy, excitement and raw emotion was undeniable as an estimated 1,000 “dreamers” showed up at CASA de Maryland's Langley Park center Wednesday for its inaugural application clinic, kicking off President Obama’s new deferred deportation program.
The new federal policy – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals -- which bypassed Congress and was approved by executive order, would grant two-year deportation reprieves to up to 1.7 million eligible illegal immigrants in the U.S. aged 15 to 30. Applicants could also qualify for employment authorization.
Gustavo Torres, Casa’s executive director, said in total he expects to sign up 10,000 “dreamers,” of which 80% to 90% he believed would go on to college. “The great majority of dreamers are high school students,” Torres said. “Eighty to ninety percent of them will go on to college. Those kids, they are our future. That was our dream.”
Many more than legislature estimated
Torres’ estimate is a far cry from the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) Dream Act estimate of 366 students in 2011, when in-state tuition for illegal immigrants was approved by the General Assembly. The DLS fiscal note estimated taxpayer subsidies amount to about $2,000 per student for in-state, community college students.
If the actual figure is 8,000 rather than 366 immigrant students benefiting from in-state tuition, the cost of the program is potentially tens of millions more than initially estimated.
A petition drive put the new law allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition in Maryland on the Nov. 6 ballot for voters to decide in a statewide referendum.
While endless dreamers waited outside to receive their admittance ticket, Oswaldo Ruiz, a 19-year Brentwood man, was inside and the first to fill out a deferred action application. Ruiz, a recent graduate and ROTC student at Bladensburg High School, said he was ready to pursue his degree.
“I was thinking to go to college, but I was not able to because of my Social Security,” Ruiz said while taking a break to show off his USA t-shirt and ROTC trophy. “Oh wow, I’m so excited now. When I look at those people who have helped me, I am motivated to get my degree. I want to do the same thing for this country too.”
Other dreamers were equally excited outside, despite the hours it would take to wait to fill out their paperwork with CASA’s legal and volunteer staff.
“We are just so happy,” said 22-year-old Karla Ramirez of Riverdale. “We are very excited to be here. We have a green light. Of course we are going to college now. We just can’t wait to be professional.”
Ramirez’s friend, Luis Tobar, 22, of Bladensburg, shared her enthusiasm. “We’re finally stepping out of the shadows. We aren’t afraid now. We were before.”
Complaints about new immigration policy
While the dreamers were busy dreaming, one opponent of illegal immigration was sounding off about the new measure.
Brad Botwin, executive director of Help Save Maryland, an anti-illegal immigrant advocacy group, heaped criticism and complaints on the new policy.
“Let the amnesty, fraud and abuse begin,” Botwin said. “I just love seeing our state and local tax dollars at work at CASA de Maryland.”
Casa receives an estimated $2.8 million annually from federal, state and local government funding, according to Torres. Their annual budget is $7 million.
“Even worse than the two-year amnesty, is the two-year work permit,” Botwin continued. CORRECTION “With 8.3% U.S. unemployment, all you’re really doing is potentially adding another two million legal workers
illegal immigrants to the unemployment figures. The application fee for the program is $465, that’s about a one-month unemployment payment. [The other] eleven months are going to be paid for by you and me.”
(To receive unemployment benefits, applicants need to have previous employment to qualify.)
6th District congressional candidates weigh in
Congressional candidates in Maryland’s most competitive race also weighed in.
Ten-term Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in the 6th Congressional District opposed the plan.
“Roscoe Bartlett is a strong supporter of legal immigration, which has granted access to the American Dream to millions of immigrants while respecting the laws of this country,” said Bartlett campaign spokesman Ted Dacey. “He believes strongly, however, that immigrants should enter this country through legal channels and does not believe we should reward people for breaking the law.”
Bartlett’s Democratic opponent, political newcomer John Delaney, said the measure was a temporary fix to a problem that needed long-term solutions.
“On immigration, Congress has been unwilling to act despite record increases in border enforcement, deportations, a talent drain, and the enormity of the situation generally,” Delaney said in a statement. “This temporary action is not a long term solution, which can only come once Congress stops its partisan bickering and finds common ground on important new immigration policy."
Delaney is on record supporting the federal Dream Act and the Maryland Dream Act, while Bartlett opposes both.
Torres said Casa de Maryland will continue to accept applications on an on-going basis every Wednesday and Saturday,