If a controversial ballot question passes next month, state Del. Pat McDonough said Tuesday, the first thing he will do on Nov. 7 would be to start readying a case for federal court.
"It won't be over on Nov. 6, probably no matter what happens, no matter who loses," McDonough said.
McDonough, a Middle River Republican who represents portions of Baltimore and Harford counties, made the remarks during a forum on the Maryland Dream Act at the Community College of Baltimore County-Essex, in front of a crowd of about two dozen, mostly CCBC students.
The Dream Act, patterned after similar legislation in 11 other states, would guarantee in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants, provided, among other things, that they spent at least three years in a Maryland high school, that their parents had filed income taxes and that the students first spend two years at a community college.
The bill, passed in 2011, was quickly petitioned to referendum, and will be Question 4 on the Maryland ballot in two weeks.
In the 90-minute appearance at CCBC, McDonough spoke about citizenship, the rule of law, federal law and what he called "misinformation" about the Maryland Dream Act's true costs. The in-state tuition discount is about $4,000 per year for community colleges, and $16,000 per year at the University of Maryland College Park, McDonough said, making the total tax dollars spent for one student $40,000.
Estimating that 1,000 students annually may take advantage of the measure, "$40 million dollars a year [in costs] going into an under-funded system that is in debt," he said.
On the flip side, McDonough said he supports immigration reform, including incentives for young illegal immigrants to join the armed forces as a path to some kind of legal status (though he clarified after the speech that he does not specifically support the federal DREAM Act, introduced in Congress several times in recent years).
Such reform, however, must come from the federal level, he said, adding that federal authorities cannot "selectively enforce" immigration law.
"Do you think if Gov. O'Malley or President Obama, President Bush were to begin to selectively enforce the Civil Rights Act, how long would that last? Minutes," he said.
He said the tuition bill runs afoul of federal law barring preferential treatment or benefits given to illegal immigrant students that are not given to out-of-state students, which could put state and community colleges "in danger of losing our ability to charge out-of-state" tuition.
Recent polls have shown support for the measure among 50 to 60 percent of Maryland voters. Most recently, a Washington Post poll found 59 percent of likely voters in support and 35 percent opposing the measure.
"You don't collect in a record time and think that people are not against this. It's inconsistent," McDonough said afterwards. "I'm confident that we're going to win it."
After his speech, he fielded several questions from the audience on the bill's fiscal impact and general issues regarding illegal immigrants, such as the impact and costs of increased local and federal enforcement and a recent identity theft case in Houston, TX.
The forum, he said afterwards, was a great opportunity to have an important conversation just two weeks from the election.
"People have an open mind, they were intelligent, they were reasonable, they listened to both sides and they'll make a decision," he said.
McDonough probably didn't change many minds at CCBC. He asked the audience to raise their hands to gauge the crowd's position. About two-thirds were for the bill and one-third were against, with one identifying herself as undecided.
Bill Krehnbrink, a Perry Hall resident who said he was against the tuition bill, said he found the forum "very interesting," particularly quotes read by McDonough from the likes of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington in reference to what he called the "public office" of citizenship.
"I've heard some of the quotes mentioned, but I've never heard it in that kind of mode with that kind of passion behind it," he said.
Pragyashree Sharma, a CCBC sophomore from Towson who is herself a legal immigrant from Nepal, was put off by perceived stereotyping of immigrants by McDonough and other opponents, particularly in relation to ethnicity and crime, and said that the law should not punish students brought to the country when they were young.
"For the youngsters, I would say why not let them go? They came here. That could be your parents [who] came here," she said. "That's not your fault that you came here as an illegal immigrant into the United States. That's your parents' fault."
CASA de Maryland, a Latino immigrant legal aid and advocacy group, held similar forums at CCBC in Essex and Catonsville earlier this month to speak in support of the measure. Educating Maryland Kids, the ballot issue committee for the measure, held a rally in Silver Spring on Tuesday.