Hundreds of supporters of a ballot question that would allow for undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition marched along University Boulevard on Saturday in an effort to remind residents to register to vote and support the measure.
The march was organized by Casa of Maryland, a group that advocates for immigrant rights. Marchers met at the group’s Multicultural Center in Langley Park where they drummed on buckets, chanted slogans and listened to speeches by undocumented students, state officials and University of Maryland University College President Javier Miyares.
Marchers walked to the University of Maryland at College Park, chanting “Si se puede” — roughly translated to “Yes, we can” — and held signs along the way. Many undocumented students who participated in the march attended or currently attend high schools in Prince George’s County.
Veronica Saravia, 17, graduated from High Point High School in Beltsville in June with a 3.0 GPA, she said. Saravia was born in El Salvador, but came to the United States with her family when she was a child.
She said she could not currently afford to attend Montgomery Community College to study psychology given that she must pay out-of-state tuition. The in-state tuition rate is $69 compared to $261 for the out-of-state rate, according to the college’s website.
“All I want is a better chance to better myself and have a future,” Saravia said. “It has always made me feel like an outsider knowing that I could not go to college and succeed in life. But I am trying to change my view of that. I am not an outsider. I am the same as everybody else.”
Marianela Herrera, 18, a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, was born in Mexico and came to Maryland with her family when she was eight years old. She and her twin sister attended Lamont Elementary in New Carrollton.
Herrera said she plans to work for a few months after graduation to save up so she can afford to go to Howard Community College in Columbia, where she wants to study criminal justice. Currently, her mother does not work and her father is employed in a low-wage job, making it difficult for the family, which also includes six younger brothers, to stay afloat.
“I don’t think it is fair,” Herrera said. “It is basically a waste of time to go and work when you should be in school learning.”
The march comes after a poll released late last month showed that 57.8 percent of Maryland voters support Question 4, which would allow for undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges if they attended a Maryland high school and their parents or themselves have filed state taxes.
The main goal of the march was to remind people that the deadline for registering to vote — Oct. 16 — was nearing and that they should vote yes on the measure, said Kim Propeack, Casa’s political director.
Critics argue that undocumented immigrants should not pay less to attend the state’s public colleges, especially given that the state has been under financial stress in recent years.
C. Paul Mendez, executive director of Help Save Maryland, a group that opposes illegal immigration and Question 4, said he was not concerned with the size of the march and questioned the sample sizes of polls released on Question 4. It did not make sense for the state to invest in undocumented students’ education if they cannot legally work after college, he said.
“The key thing to remember is that the state of Maryland has been extremely generous,” Mendez said. “For people to turn around and demand more is a little off-putting, especially given the state of the economy.”
That is not the view of Elias Vlanton, a history teacher at Bladensburg High School, who attended the march. He said he knows dozens of students who are undocumented or their family members have paid taxes and worked in Maryland.
“They are subsidizing other students going to college and they are denied the right to go to college; that is a crime,” Vlanton said. “The whole history of the country has been expanding access to education, because that is what has made the country great. So now to say that someone that has been here 10 years or 15 years, and all of sudden and they can’t go to school, that is un-American to me.”