In Mary­land, a grass-roots push against aid to il­le­gals

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID HILL

SMITHS­BURG, MD. | Some Mary­lan­ders want noth­ing to do with Del­e­gate Neil C. Par­rott and his clipboard. Oth­ers ap­proach him as if they’ve been look­ing for him.

The Wash­ing­ton County Repub­li­can, who is lead­ing ef­forts to block the re­cently passed Dream Act that would al­low in­state col­lege tu­ition for many il­le­gal aliens, might have been the most pop­u­lar man at the Smiths­burg Pride Days fes­ti­val over the May 21-22 week­end in his home county.

Many res­i­dents in the town of about 3,000 were ea­ger to sign. Few turned down his re­quests for sig­na­tures, and some sought him out or stopped their cars for a chance to help.

“Ev­ery­one that I talk to in this area is com­pletely against the bill,” res­i­dent Shawn Weddle said. “When I have my tax­payer dol­lars sup­port­ing some­thing that by its name is il­le­gal, to me that’s a com­plete waste and a com­plete slap in the face to the tax­pay­ers of Mary­land.”

Mr. Par­rott and other pe­ti­tion or­ga­niz­ers have un­til June 30 to col­lect 55,736 valid sig­na­tures from Mary­land vot­ers in or­der to force a 2012 ref­er­en­dum on the is­sue. A more im­me­di­ate dead­line looms this week, as they have un­til May 31 to sub­mit one-third, or 18,579, of those sig­na­tures to the state Board of Elec­tions.

Mr. Par­rott said May 24 that or­ga­niz­ers have col­lected 25,000 sig­na­tures that they think are valid. Many more, though, could be needed, be­cause pe­ti­tions typ­i­cally have hun­dreds or thou­sands of sig­na­tures re­jected as a re­sult of er­rors and tech­ni­cal­i­ties.

“We’ve passed the bare min­i­mum, but we need a surge this week,” said Mr. Par­rott, who has set a goal of 35,000 sig­na­tures by May 31. He and vol­un­teers be­gan col­lect­ing sig­na­tures four weeks ago.

The Dream Act would al­low in-state tu­ition for col­lege-aged il­le­gal aliens who have grad­u­ated from Mary­land schools and come from tax­pay­ing fam­i­lies. The stu­dents would start at com­mu­nity col­leges but also could pay the in-state rate if they ma­tric­u­late to a four-year school.

Op­po­nents have vis­ited all of the state’s 23 coun­ties and Bal­ti­more ask­ing for sig­na­tures, while re­ly­ing on res­i­dents to down­load and cir­cu­late their own copies of the pe­ti­tion from the web­site md­pe­ti­tions.com.

They say they have been re­ceived warmly at nu­mer­ous events, no­tably col­lect­ing 1,800 sig­na­tures at last month’s Tow­son­town Spring Fes­ti­val in Bal­ti­more County, and gained bi­par­ti­san sup­port.

Or­ga­niz­ers have said that 25 per­cent of peo­ple who have down­loaded the on­line pe­ti­tion are reg­is­tered Democrats. The site ac­cesses the voter in­for­ma­tion of vis­i­tors who en­ter their names and ZIP codes.

The pe­ti­tion has not played as well in places like Mont­gomery County, a heav­ily Demo­cratic area with a grow­ing His­panic pop­u­la­tion, where Mr. Par­rott spent a re­cent morn­ing coax­ing sig­na­tures and pass­ing out fliers at a lo­cal sub­way sta­tion.

Many res­i­dents de­clined to sign the pe­ti­tion. One young woman po­litely ex­plained that she works with His­panic youths. A fed­eral em­ployee who de­clined to give his name dou­bled back af­ter read­ing the flier to testily ask Mr. Par­rott, “Do you re­ally think im­mi­grants don’t de­serve a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion?”

Among the sup­port­ers was Denise Zde­lar of Gaithers­burg.

“They would be tak­ing the place of a U.S. cit­i­zen’s spot,” Ms. Zde­lar said. “That’s not fair to the kids in the United States who were brought up as a U.S. cit­i­zen.”

Leg­is­la­tors and ac­tivists who sup­port the Dream Act have mostly ig­nored the pe­ti­tion, while some have pub­licly doubted that it will garner enough sig­na­tures.

“We are not con­cerned at all about this,” said Gus­tavo Tor­res, di­rec­tor of im­mi­grant ad­vo­cacy group Casa de Mary­land. “Mary­land is a very pro­gres­sive state where the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity and mi­nori­ties are wel­come.”

A pe­ti­tion drive has not suc­cess­fully forced a ref­er­en­dum in the state since 1992, when a law eas­ing re­stric­tions on abor­tions was up­held in a pop­u­lar vote.

Pe­ti­tions typ­i­cally lose a large num­ber of sig­na­tures be­cause of mis­takes, and or­ga­niz­ers have said that they need to nearly dou­ble the state’s sig­na­ture re­quire­ments, a goal that could be dif­fi­cult to reach.

Er­rors in­clude in­cor­rect or out­dated ad­dresses, sig­na­tures on sheets des­ig­nated for res­i­dents of dif­fer­ent coun­ties, or in­valid forms of names.

State law re­quires that sign­ers ei­ther print and sign their name ex­actly as it ap­pears in voter reg­is­tra­tion records or use their com­plete last name and com­plete first or mid­dle name, with the re­main­ing name rep­re­sented by at least an ini­tial.

For ex­am­ple, a man reg­is­tered as John E. Smith could sign his name as “John E. Smith,” “John Ed­ward Smith” or “J. Ed­ward Smith,” but not as “John Smith,” “Ed­ward Smith” or “J.E. Smith.”

Mr. Par­rott said or­ga­niz­ers have made sure their sign­ers fol­low the rules, but the ac­cu­racy of sig­na­tures from vol­un­teers who down­loaded the pe­ti­tion on­line re­mains to be seen.

He said or­ga­niz­ers have sent 2,000 emails to pe­ti­tion­ers ask­ing that they cor­rect er­rors and that he thinks they will have enough sig­na­tures to con­tinue their drive through the end of June.

“Even though the time frame is more pressed, we be­lieve that we’re go­ing to be suc­cess­ful,” he said. “I’m very en­cour­aged with how the cam­paign is go­ing right now.”

DAVID HILL/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Tak­ing it to the peo­ple: Mar yland Del­e­gate Neil C. Par­rott, Wash­ing­ton County Repub­li­can, watches in Smiths­burg May 21 as Paul Span­gler of Em­mits­burg signs a pe­ti­tion against the re­cently passed Dream Act. Mr. Par­rott is lead­ing ef­for ts to block the bill, which would al­low in-state tu­ition for many il­le­gal aliens.

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