Statewide ballot Question 4, known as the Maryland Dream Act, was running safely ahead in Tuesday’s voting.
With 1.64 million ballots counted late Tuesday night, 57 percent of voters approved the Dream Act.
“This is a tremendous victory for all of Maryland,” said Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), who has championed the law. “New Americans move us forward, not back.”
The Maryland Dream Act, passed by the legislature in 2011, allows students who are not citizens who graduate from Maryland public high schools and whose families have filed income tax returns in Maryland for three years to go to community colleges and state universities at in-state tuition rates.
Tuition for in-state students at the University of Maryland, College Park costs about $9,000 each year, while students who do not qualify as state residents pay more than $27,000.
“This will help my family a lot,” said Dulce Garcia, 19, an undocumented student at Anne Arundel Community College who has been working on the Dream Act campaign for about two years. “I'm not the only person in my family going to college. My brother goes, too, and we can only take two classes [because of money].”
Polls in recent months have shown solid support for the question. Educating Maryland Kids spent $1 million on advertising and mobilized unions, churches and student groups in get-out-the-vote efforts.
The group’s online and TV advertisements were a series of videos featuring Maryland politicians, religious leaders and teachers making the argument for the Dream Act, with the tagline: “It’s right, and it’s fair.”
At first, Garcia said, most of the people she talked to about the Dream Act were against it.
“But a lot of them didn’t really know what it was, until you explain it to them,” Garcia said.
Kristin Ford, spokeswoman for Educating Maryland Kids, said that face-to-face conversations with voters were a large part of the strategy that led to the win.
Opponents have argued that the Dream Act will cost the state millions, and that spaces in community colleges would be taken from legal Maryland residents to accommodate the undocumented students.
A study by University of Maryland, Baltimore County released last month concluded that the law would benefit state and local goverments with $6.2 million in economic activity from increased earnings for about 435 students who take advantage of the Dream Act each year.
Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington), chairman of MDPetitions.com, which organized the petition to put the Dream Act on the ballot, said that opponents scored a “big victory” just in getting the issue on the ballot.