Story: Alexandra Malclomson
Multimedia: Joseph DiPaula
Through the bright red doors, past the bar and into the courtyard of Arcos Restaurante in Fell’s Point, over 300 people waited for the results of Question 4 on the Maryland referendum, also known as the Maryland Dream Act, last Tuesday.
When it was announced that all four of the referendums had been passed, tears began to pour down faces, and the shouts and cheers could be heard all down South Broadway.
“¡Obama, amigo, el puede estar contigo! ¡Obama, amigo, el puede estar contigo!” chanted the dreamers and allies alike in the small restaurant’s dining area.
There were eight dreamers at Arcos that night. Even though their stories may be different, they each have two things in common: they are undocumented and unafraid.
A dreamer is someone – regardless of immigration status – who has paid Maryland taxes for a minimum of three years, attended a Maryland public high school for a minimum of three years, and graduated, and is attending a Maryland community college. These students now qualify to pay in-state tuition at any Maryland public four-year university thanks to the Maryland Dream Act.
“[The dreamers] did it, absolutely,” said Trent Leon-Lierman, the Baltimore City organizer with CASA de Maryland. “All these students made it happen. They were the faces and the work behind it all.”
The narrow walkway leading from the main doorway into the courtyard in the back was packed with people of all creeds and colors. Officials, including Governor Martin O’Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, made appearances throughout the evening, speaking to the press, as well as to the dreamers.
Monica Juarez, 18, graduated from Patterson High School in 2012. She was 7 years old when she came to the U.S. from Mexico with her parents. Juarez’s parents have been paying Maryland taxes for 11 years and the family has never left Baltimore.
“The Dream Act is right and it’s fair,” said Juarez, who was holding back the tears. “I’m so excited to go to college. I still have to go to community college for two years. Then, I want to go to Morgan State because I want to be a translator, and I know Morgan has a good language program.”
“I think this is going to be a model for the country,” said Elizabeth Alex, lead organizer with CASA de Maryland. “I think congress – and the country – is looking to see [if] the American people want a broader immigration reform. I think that they’ll see that yes, we as a country and we as a state are ready to pass a broader immigration reform.”
The Dream Act passed during the last voting season, but the opposition collected enough signatures to stall it and put it back on the ballot this year.
“It’s one of those issues that really everyone should stand behind,” Leon-Lierman said. “We shouldn’t even have to fight for it.
Still, some Baltimore residents are willing to gather signatures to once again overrule the passing of the Dream Act.
“Great, if only I was an illegal immigrant I could go back to school,” said David Wolf, a 27-year-old Baltimore City resident. “Immigration laws are laws for a reason. They won’t just get in-state tuition. They’ll be up for minority scholarships and other financial aid that I’m not eligible for just because I’m a natural-born American citizen white guy with a dead-end job because my parents weren’t able to pay for me to go to college.”
Though nothing is official yet, there has been talk about having another petition go around for people like Wolf to sign, hoping to keep the original immigration laws.
However, for 20-year-old Jesús Perez, the passing of the Dream Act means that after nine years in America being unsure of his post-high school plans, after he finishes community college, there is a now a means for him to reach his dream of going to university to study communications.
“Maybe someday I’ll get to be the one behind the mic,” said Perez. “My dad used to volunteer with CASA. Hopefully [he] is watching me from the sky saying ‘mi hijo you did it’ and I know he is proud.”