300 Latinos rally for bills in Annapolis

In-state tuition rate, easier access to driver's licenses urged for aliens

February 25, 2003|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Cheering and waving placards, a crowd of more than 300 Latinos gathered last night outside the State House to urge lawmakers to support legislation that would give long-term immigrants in-state tuition rates and better access to driver's licenses.

Members of the Latino community, one of the state's fastest-growing ethnic groups, said they live and work in Maryland and deserve benefits that will help them care for their families and become productive members of society.

"What do we want?" shouted Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA of Maryland, a nonprofit legal aid group.

"Driver's licenses!" the crowd responded.

"When do we want them?" Torres asked.

"Now!" they said.

"And for our children?" Torres asked.

"Education!" they said.

In particular, the state's Latinos are calling for passage of legislation that would give in-state college tuition to immigrants who attended a Maryland high school for at least three years. Currently, state law requires aliens who have residence in a foreign country to pay international tuition rates, which can cost as much as three times in-state tuition rates even if they graduated from a state high school.

A second bill would expand the list of documents that could be used as identification when seeking a driver's license to include such papers as foreign marriage and divorce certificates and a Social Security card or letter from the Internal Revenue Service. Currently, many foreign documents cannot be used.

Last night marked the second year the state's Latino population gathered for such a rally, but this year, they were represented by the first two Hispanics ever elected to the Maryland House of Delegates. The two delegates are having a significant impact in Annapolis, gaining widespread support for the tuition bill and growing support for the driver's license measure.

"It's wonderful to have you here," Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, a Montgomery County Democrat, told the crowd. "This is the best showing we have ever had."

Added Del. Victor R. Ramirez, a Prince George's Democrat: "We have to keep doing this. We're getting their attention."

During the rally, organizers of the event handed Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele a petition with 8,000 signatures in support of the driver's license bill, urging the administration to support the measure.

Although Steele did not say whether he or Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. supported either of the bills, he promised that he would make sure their concerns were known in the State House.

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