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.
His father, José Moreno, calls the Dream Act " a great step for the undocumented people."
"This is the reason to bring my family to the USA," he says. "To get great opportunities for my kids and for my family."
Regina O'Neal, a Spanish teacher at Poly, came to know Oscar Moreno through CASA de Maryland, where they both volunteer. Moreno works with the undocumented in CASA's Deferred Action Clinic, helping them with the paperwork for a federal program through which the government may decline to pursue removal proceedings against those who were brought to the United States as children.
"I was pleasantly surprised to see such a young man working so diligently for his community," O'Neal says. She is now the faculty adviser to the BPI Dreamers, the group of about 10 students Moreno founded to talk about the Dream Act.
"I believe in that young man, and I want him to be able to go to college so that we can benefit from his knowledge, benefit from his skills and his talents that he is going to develop, unquestionably, in college," O'Neal says. "This young man could be a remarkable engineer. He could be a remarkable attorney. He could be a remarkable doctor. I want those skills and talents here in Maryland."
Moreno speaks Spanish and still has family in Mexico. But he hasn't been back since leaving 12 years ago, and says the idea of being deported scares him.
"I wouldn't know how to live there," he says. "The life is definitely different. … I really don't have much memory about it."
Asked if he feels American now, he says "I don't really categorize myself."
"I would say I'm Americanized," he says. "I've been living an American lifestyle since I've been here."