On May 11, 2011, we witnessed great political irony. That morning, Governor O’Malley posed for pictures with hundreds of illegal aliens in the Governor’s Reception Room on the second floor of the State Capitol.
Young immigrants with t-shirts celebrating the “Dream Act”, were bussed in to celebrate the occasion and lined up for their turn behind the Governor signing Senate Bill 167 into law. Delegates and senators fought the crowd to be front and center in the pictures as photographers tussled with each other and the police to get the “historic” photo.
SB 167 is historic because for the first time it will allow illegal immigrants to attend colleges and universities in Maryland at the lower “in-state” rate, a savings of up to $14,000 per student per year. The “in-state” rate is projected to cost the state about $4 million per year by 2015, but is likely to cost much more as illegal immigrants move to take advantage of the benefit.
At about the same time, just 2 miles away, another “historic” event was coming to light at the offices of the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC). Elizabeth Sachs, the acting secretary, was explaining the cancellation of the long term and very successful Distinguished Scholars Award. The Award gives scholarships to about 350 of the Maryland’s top students in exchange for them attending a Maryland university.
When the parents and teachers balked at the last minute cancellation, the Secretary excused the cancellation of the award, according to the Baltimore Sun (May 10, 2011), by explaining “These are tough times… it’s unfortunate that this program was one of the victims” implying some last minute unexpected mishap, but the program was not included in the Governor’s budget submitted in January nor in the final budget approved by the General Assembly in March.
The fact that MHEC notified the students the first week in May, long after most university deadlines, can only be explained by incompetence or indifference. When asked why the students weren’t notified sooner, MHEC gave a typical bureaucratic response; they stated that since their documents included in the fine print “subject to availability of funds”, that they were not responsible for any hardship caused by their inaction.
The fact that the news of the cancellation of the Distinguish Scholar Award to Maryland students came out the same day as the Governor grandstanding his gift to illegal immigrants, at four times the price, was the sweetest of ironies. Even the Capital (editorial 5-13-11) asked “how is it the state can no longer afford a modest scholarship program for its own top students, but can afford to promise in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants.”
When news leaked out, the Governor immediately admitted it was an “error” and reinstated the awards, but for this year only. I will work next session to make the restoration permanent.
In addition, I am working with a group collecting signatures to delay and repeal the law granting in-state tuition for illegal immigrants by petitioning the law to referendum. If enough signatures are collected the law will not take effect unless approved by voters in the 2012 elections. I encourage you to help by signing the petition at www.mdpetitions.com .