Dream Act: Some see hope, others a drain on state resources
Friends, foes feel strongly about immigrant tuition measure
Oscar Moreno, a senior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute whose parents entered the country from Mexico illegally, says the Dream Act is his only chance of going to college. (Doug Kapustin / Photo for Baltimore Sun / October 16, 2012)
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"So the ability of particular groups to literally walk across the border, set up shop, start moving into my schools, have groups that are feeding them, to come up here … that just bothered me as wrong," he said.
The father of two children now in their 20s, Botwin sees his activism against illegal immigration as an extension of his volunteering with his son's Little League team or his daughter's Brownie troop.
He became involved in 2005 when the Montgomery County Council approved funding to set up a center in Gaithersburg for day laborers looking for work with local contractors. Botwin and others testified at public hearings against the plan, and officials could not find a landlord to take the center.
The opponents' victory was only temporary. Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, elected in 2006, opened the center on county land just outside Gaithersburg.
"That really kind of pushed me over the edge," Botwin says. "So I said, 'You know what? I'm going to find some time,' and I created Help Save Maryland."
Botwin named a board and set up a website, which describes the group as "a multi-ethnic, grassroots, citizens' organization" that "provides helpful facts to citizens otherwise frustrated by Maryland policies which encourage illegal immigration."
The group now has roughly 3,000 members, Botwin says, who receive e-mail blasts on the developments in driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, the spread of day labor centers, the E-Verify federal program that enables employers to determine the immigration status of potential employees, and other issues.
That e-mail list proved valuable last year to state Del. Neil Parrott, the Hagerstown Republican who organized the petition drive against the Dream Act.
At the outset, Parrott says, "there was no money from any source" to publicize the drive, organize volunteers and gather signatures.
"Right away, Brad Botwin with Help Save Maryland was there," Parrott says. "He had an organization and he has contacts with people all across the state. … So his leadership, he's inspired a grassroots team that really cares and sees the problem."
Botwin, who makes presentations and appears on panels about immigration, says undocumented students may seem a sympathetic group. But he describes the Dream Act as one part of a more comprehensive — and expensive — effort to draw illegal immigrants to Maryland, where they may send their children to public school and use other services.
"If the day laborer or any illegal here has a child, they're automatically citizens. That triggers a whole slew of services. They can bring in services for the rest of the family. That has an even larger expense," he said.
"So, from, 'Well, what's so bad about giving in-state tuition' — yikes! This has now blossomed into a huge cost."
Oscar Moreno hears a lot about taxes. When he talks about BPI Dreamers, the group he formed at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, or when he calls voters to rally support for the Dream Act before the vote next month, it's the question he's asked most: Why should the government spend my tax dollars to educate people who shouldn't be here in the first place?
Moreno responds that his family pays taxes, too. His father has a regular job in construction; his mother used to work in a chocolate factory. His two older sisters have worked in restaurants.
He doesn't remember much about crossing the border. His mother brought him and his sisters to Baltimore, where their father already had settled. He enrolled in school — Highlandtown, Graceland Park and John Ruhrah elementary — learned English, and found he had a facility in math. He won a spot at Poly, a magnet school that focuses on math, science and engineering.
He says his parents didn't hide their immigration status from him.
"I guess I knew, but I really didn't know what it meant," he says. "I guess I had an image in my mind that we weren't really supposed to be here, but I didn't really understand. … I didn't know that I couldn't do all these things in the future."
With college uncertain, Moreno has marched in support of the Dream Act, and volunteers on phone banks organized to back it. He is looking now to community college, where the legislation requires students to complete the equivalent of two years.