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Illegal immigration: why eyes will be on Maryland this Election Day

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The act would require illegal immigrants to graduate from a Maryland high school, provide a minimum of three years of their parents' filed income taxes, intend to apply for permanent residency when possible, and register with the Selective Service system. If students meet those requirements, they would be able to qualify for in-state tuition for two years at a state community college, followed by two years at a state university. Estimates suggest that several hundred students a year could be eligible; they will not be counted against university caps for in-state students.

Polling has shown support as high as 60 percent for Question 4, and some observers have been surprised by the level of support for the initiative. Activists opposed to the law submitted more than double the necessary signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

“I would have predicted that question being defeated 60-40, at least,” says state Sen. Jim Brochin (D), who voted against the measure but hasn’t advocated for its defeat as a referendum. "I don’t think [opponents] anticipated the other side being able to make their case.”

But organizers in favor of Question 4 have raised more than $1 million and built a coalition that includes labor unions, immigration advocates, the NAACP, and faith groups. That’s in contrast to the opposition – a handful of state lawmakers and dedicated grass-roots activists who, as one put it, “clearly don’t have Governor O’Malley hosting dinners for us and raising funds.”

Those opposed to the measure are hoping to make a national statement Tuesday.

“If we lose, it’s, ‘Everyone expected us to lose, because Maryland is such a liberal state,’ ” says Brad Botwin, an activist running Help Save Maryland, which opposes the measure. “If we win, and I’m hopeful that we’re going to, it really shows that this is a nonpartisan issue: cost and fairness to our own kids. College is not emergency health care. College is not K-12 [education]. This is discretionary, and they can pay their own way.”

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