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Supporters of the Maryland Dream Act formally kicked off a campaign Wednesday to uphold the law at the ballot box this fall, arguing that it promotes fairness, rather than special privileges, for undocumented students.

Members of the Educating Maryland Kids coalition, which includes unions such as the Service Employees International Union, activist groups like Casa of Maryland and religious organizations such as the Maryland Catholic Conference, spoke in favor of the law at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

“We are convinced that when Maryland voters know the facts about the Dream Act, they will happily embrace the chance to do the right thing,” said Bishop Denis Madden, auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Lawmakers passed the law, which offers in-state college tuition to some undocumented immigrants, in 2011, but opponents have petitioned it to voter referendum in November’s election.

“Maryland is stronger as its population becomes better and better educated. It’s for our future,” said Freeman Hrabowski III, president of UMBC. “When these young people become educated, they’ll get good jobs, they’ll pay taxes. They can help us all out.”

The most important part of the campaign will simply be educating voters about what the law does, coalition members said.

Eligible students must have attended a Maryland high school for three years and graduated and enrolled at a community college before transferring to a four-year state college or university, according to the law. During that time, the students or their parents must have filed state income tax returns each year, and the students must sign an affidavit pledging to become a permanent resident within 30 days of being eligible, according to the law.

If admitted to a four-year program, the students will pay in-state tuition, but be considered against out-of-state applicants, according to supporters.

“The Dream Act does not give special favors to children of undocumented immigrants, it gives them a level playing field,” Madden said.

Critics of the law argue that the state will lose money because fewer out-of-state students will pay the higher tuition rate. They also say the law is an affront to legal immigrants.

Baltimore County Del. Patrick McDonough (R-Dist. 7) of Middlesex, released a statement attacking Hrabowski for his support of the law, arguing that as a public official paid by taxpayers, the educator should not be endorsing a plan that will cost “those same taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in the future.”

Hrabowski responded that the university system’s board of regents had declared its support for the Dream Act before the law passed in 2011. “This is not something different,” he said.

Coalition members already have begun canvassing in support of the act and are planning a series of marches to educate voters about the law. The first, in which students will be marching across Baltimore city, is scheduled for Thursday.