Fathering All of Our Maryland Kids

Rev. Megan Foley
Sermon Date: 
Sun, 06/17/2012

Imagine something like this:  You sort of remember moving here.  You know there was a lot of excitement and a trip – crowded, hot, at night, across a desert or water or perhaps in a van.  But since that time long ago, you’ve just been a kid who lives with your family in Maryland. 

You’ve gone to school for years with a bunch of children who you thought were just like you.  You have brown skin and speak English flawlessly, just like many of your classmates.  You’re interested in sports and shopping and your friends. 

You’ve been told all through school to set goals, goals of getting good grades, of growing up strong and bright, so that you can go on to college.  Your family struggles at times for money, so you are particularly receptive to the message that going to college means getting a better job, more opportunity, a chance to make your life not only sustainable and supportive, but rich and meaningful. 

Your teachers taught you well.  The message got through.  You’ve always paid attention in school, studied and gotten good grades.  You understand that going to college is a good choice for someone like you.  You pick up that there’s some sort of deal out there, some sort of bargain, an American system:  First you do well in school.  Then you go to college.

But as you get older, you sense more and more of a shadow side to your life, which makes your home life different from the life you live at school.  The shadow side comes up when there are forms to be filled out, papers to be provided.  You don’t need to prove your citizenship in order to go to public school in Maryland, and may that always be so.  But you do need to have official documents to, say, go with your band to Toronto for a class trip.  You need those documents to get a summer job at the frozen yogurt place or at the movie theater.  And you come to learn that you and your family don’t have documents like those.  You realize that the barely-remembered trip from long ago was one that brought you and your parents into this country illegally. 

And now you’re really stuck, because you are an American now, you are a Marylander now, in every way that matters, except one:  You don’t have documentation that allows you to live here legally.  And, what’s more, you don’t have the papers you need to go to college in Maryland affordably.  In fact, you don’t have the papers to ever get an American job above-board. 

You’ve grown up here just like an American citizen, just like every other Maryland kid.  But now graduation is coming, and what are you going to do?  You have the grades to go to college, but you’d have to pay out-of-state tuition rates for any college you go to - and out-of-state tuition rates are three times as much as in-state rates at the University of Maryland College Park, twice as much as in-state rates at Montgomery College.  You just can’t pay for that.

What happens to a dream deferred?  Does it dry up?  Does it sag?  Does it explode?  What?

High school aged kids in our state – our high-schoolers in this state, the ones that go to our schools with our kids – are having to face very tough decisions about their futures.  They are terribly, intractably stuck.  They cannot “go back home” to a place that they barely remember, where they’ve almost never lived.  They cannot go forward with their plans and dreams like their classmates can, no matter how academically talented they may be.  They are facing a future of hiding from the social and political system that they had every reason to think that they were a member of.  They look ahead to surviving by working under the table, whether they want to or not, to a life of being held accountable for decisions made for them when they were too young to have a say.

Francisco is a kid who came to speak to a gathering of Maryland clergy.  He’s 21, and found himself in this exact situation as he went through high school.  He got good grades and ran track and had lots of friends.  If he had the proper paperwork, he would have gone to college, and by now would have been looking ahead to a good job that could support his siblings, help out his parents.  He’s the one who made the statement that I quoted in an article in the digest a few weeks ago.  He said to us, “Why stay in school once your counselor tells you you can’t go to college?  You can make $15/hour cutting grass for your uncle.  People gotta eat.”

People gotta eat.  Your family needs to survive.  When you look ahead, as a young person, and you can see your whole life laid out in front of you, and in this life you cannot afford your local colleges and in this life you will never be able to get a white collar job, then what happens to you?  No matter how promising, how academically talented you may be, you’re gonna be cutting grass for your uncle, no matter what?  $15/hour is a great rate for a high school junior, but it’s not so great as a steady wage for the rest of your life.  But there’s no other path forward for you.  There’s nothing else down the road for you.  And none of this happened as a result of your own decisions.  None of this is your fault.  And it won’t matter how hard you try, it’s not going to change.  What are you gonna do?

The General Assembly of the State of Maryland has passed a law to help clear out one extra path for these kids, for our kids, as they contemplate a future with very few options.  It’s not a path to citizenship, or a road to legal documentation, which in my opinion is what these kids really need.  Laws like those are tied up in the US Congress right now, and our representatives and senators aren’t able to move them along.

No, the Maryland law is much simpler.  It simply provides in-state tuition rates to any high school graduate in Maryland who has gone to school here for three years, and whose family has filed state taxes during that time.  It allows many more of our Maryland kids to afford to attend college, regardless of their immigration status.  These kids, who know no other home, just want to go to school here, get jobs here, pay taxes here and live their lives here, just like any other Maryland kid.  They don’t want to defer the dreams they have for a regular American life, dreams they only recently discovered were impossible ones.

Let me tell you more about the law, the Maryland DREAM Act.  It only applies to Maryland residents who have been living here for at least three years.  It doesn’t favor undocumented kids in any way, but rather just gives them the same treatment as any Maryland high schooler – a chance to go to one of our public colleges at the rates appropriate for Maryland residents.

In order to be eligible, the kids also have to prove that they and their guardian family have filed state income taxes for at least their three years of high school and also any intervening years between high school and college.  You don’t have to be working legally to pay taxes - the IRS and Maryland Comptroller are happy to take the income taxes of anyone.  In fact, nationally, in 2010, households comprising of undocumented immigrants paid over $11 billion in state and local taxes, despite those immigrants often being unable to access the public benefits that these taxes pay for, including in-state college tuition rates .

The Maryland DREAM Act requires that the students who are eligible for it first apply to community colleges, which have open admission.  They won’t be taking any seats from other Maryland kids.  And the college seats taken by undocumented kids under the DREAM Act will not be counted against the total number of seats reserved for in-state students.  No-one will be displaced by a student attending college under the Maryland DREAM Act.
What’s more, Maryland’s DREAM Act provides tuition equity not only to undocumented students who reside in Maryland, but also for military families stationed in Maryland and veterans who want to access our colleges at in-state rates.  Everyone is a winner with Maryland’s DREAM Act.

But despite the fine features of the law and its passage in last year’s Assembly, anti-immigrant activists funded by outside interests have collected enough signatures to repeal this legislation on the November 2012 ballot.  That means that when you go to the polls in November, along with voting for President and voting for new Congresspeople and hopefully voting yes for marriage equality in Maryland, you’ll also have the dubious opportunity to repeal a law that would open a tiny door for some of our Maryland kids to live better lives here in our home.

It’s important that the Maryland DREAM Act be upheld.  It’s important that our Maryland kids get the chance to go to college when they want to.

If you aren’t quite sure how you feel about this referendum, or if you’d like more information, I have sheets in the back that tell you more about the law and the good it can do for our Maryland kids.  I hope you’ll vote in November to bring the Dream Act into full force in our state. 

But there’s a reason we’re talking about this in June instead of in October.  Because I want you to do more than just vote for the law, vote against the repeal.  I also want you to let your friends and neighbors know that you are for this law, that you’re in support of all of our Maryland kids no matter the method by which they once arrived here.  Spend some time this summer making a small but important difference.  Put a tag line on your email that tells people that you are for the Maryland Dream Act.  Mention it on your Facebook page.  Put a sign on your lawn that your neighbors can see.  Tack something up on your office door or in your cubicle, or get a bumper sticker for your car or for your backpack. 

If most Marylanders are like me, they get in the ballot box and there will always be a question or candidate or two that they haven’t had time to find out about or form an opinion about.  Imagine the impact you could have if even one of those people who didn’t have time to figure out what they thought about the DREAM Act were able to remember that YOU said it was a good thing.  And imagine if because of you, they voted for it.  There are Maryland kids out there who are counting on that to happen.  They need us to vote for them.  They aren’t able to vote on their own behalf, either, and they never will be, unless things drastically change. 

Father’s Day can be a complicated holiday.  Not everyone has a father around, and some of our fathers didn’t do as great a job as we might have liked.  But all of us have a sense of what ideal fathering would be like, even if we have never experienced it ourselves. 

Ideal fathering is protecting.  Ideal fathering is nurturing.  Ideal fathering sets a child on a path and says, “I know you can do it.  Get going!” - but ideal fathering also runs ahead and clears the most obvious boulders out of the trail so the kid doesn’t trip too many times down the way.

Individuals vary in their ability to live up to the ideal of fatherhood.  But as a community, as a state, we can live up to this ideal all the time.  When nurturing is needed, we can provide it.  When protection is needed, we can provide it.  When a clear path is needed, we can provide that, and when one more boulder in that path could be moved, we as the state of Maryland can move that boulder out of the way. And we should.
This tuition situation is one of those boulders, and this is one of those times where we can father more of our Maryland kids.  In honor of this day, I hope we will all pledge to do it.  Vote for this law in November.  Get your Maryland friends and family to vote for it.  This summer, let your neighbors and school and co-workers know you’re for it.  Let’s make the dream a little more possible for all our kids. 

May it be so.