A Republican state delegate plans to hold pizza rallies in private homes, businesses, and public town halls across Maryland to inspire voters to back a referendum issue that would ban in-state tuition for college students who are illegal immigrants.
Pat McDonough calls these gatherings the "Pat and Pizza Rally." He says they're entirely grassroots.
"Pizza is cheap, and we don't have any money. There's no out-of-state funding [like] the opponents have, such as unions and other groups," said McDonough, who represents Baltimore and Harford counties.
The Service Employees International Union, one of the fastest-growing unions in the U.S., opposes the referendum question that would overturn the Maryland Dream Act.
"This is not just another presidential election. The turnout is going to be huge," McDonough said, confident that voters of all leanings, from socially conservative Democrats to independents and blacks, will vote. "The fact that same-sex marriage is on the ballot and the Dream Act is not only going to generate a larger turnout of a certain segment," he said, "it's going to be a tsunami."
Already, McDonough said, volunteers collected 132,000 signatures to get the Dream Act on the November ballot, of which about half of those supporters are not Republicans.
Last year, three Montgomery County residents filed a lawsuit against Montgomery College seeking to stop prevent undocumented students from paying in-state tuition rates.
"They have admitted they don't check documentation," McDonough said of the college's admissions team. "Under state Maryland law, that's illegal."
Travis Tazelaar, campaign manager with Educating Maryland Kids, a coalition of groups supporting the Dream Act, challenged the claims of wide support to ban in-state tuition.
"Show me the data," Tazelaar said.
"Our internal polling is consistent with the Washington Post polling that has us at 58 percent," he said. The January poll showed that 58 percent of Maryland residents would support giving aid to undocumented immigrants who graduated from a state high school if their parents filed state income-tax returns. About 33 percent said they strongly support it.
Advocates of the Maryland Dream Act say these students, largely raised in the U.S., know no country but this one and deserve a chance at further education.
"These are hardworking kids who fully contribute to the state," said Kristin Ford, spokeswoman for Educating Maryland Kids, a coalition of groups supporting the Dream Act. Her group is also launching a campaign to educate people about who qualifies for in-state tuition and how to get it.
Of the 11 states that have some type of in-state tuition for undocumented students, Maryland has the most-stringent rules. Students have to complete at least two years at a community college and their family must have filed taxes, Ford said.
Many undocumented immigrants file taxes using the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, which is a tax-processing number issued by the IRS for those who are not eligible for a Social Security number.
"They are paying taxes like everyone," Ford said. "They're contributing to the state's economy. When voters hear that, they think it's fair. And it's the right thing to do. It's investing in our future."
Youths must also sign an affidavit stating that they will file an application to become a permanent resident within 30 days after the individual is eligible to do so. Dream Act students don't qualify for federal financial aid.
McDonough has been a main critic of in-state tuition for illegal-immigrant college students. He said that the discounts would be about $16,000 over a two-year period. If a student graduated from a community college and transferred to a four-year public university, the discount would be about $30,000 for an undergraduate education.
"Now that's $32,000 in operating funds that are lost by the institutions," he said. "The schools are already seriously underfunded."
As for those who came here as children, he said, taxpayers should not bear the brunt of educating them. "The parents made the choice to break the law, not American citizens or taxpayers," McDonough said. "Their parents created a problem."
He said the next rally is scheduled in September, likely in Hartford County.