By MAGGIE CLARK
ANNAPOLIS (January 21, 2011) Three Montgomery County residents, backed by the conservative Washington-based legal group Judicial Watch, filed a lawsuit Thursday against Montgomery College for allowing undocumented students to pay in-county tuition when attending the community college.
Currently, undocumented students are allowed to attend Maryland public universities, but must pay out-of-state tuition.
Mike Phillips, a former Republican congressional candidate in Montgomery's 8th district, and one of the three residents who filed suit, said he signed on because he saw the situation as "grossly unfair."
"When our elected officials not only turn a blind eye but look taxpayers in the face and say 'nope, we're going to do it regardless of what the law is in the state of Maryland,' then I find it necessary to take action," said Phillips, at a press conference to announce the suit Thursday in Annapolis.
The other two litigants are Patricia Fenati and David Drake, also Montgomery County residents.
The three sought the support of Baltimore County Delegate Pat McDonough, who said he was contacted by Montgomery County residents who felt like their complaints against the college's practices were falling on deaf ears.
"I felt that if I did not respond to those people, I would be engaging in obstruction of justice," said McDonough, a Republican who plans to introduce 15 anti-immigration bills this session. "To have knowledge of illegal acts as a public official and do nothing, that would be immoral."
In response, Montgomery College officials said they are simply basing tuition rates on residency.
"Montgomery College offers its lowest tuition rate to all recent Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) graduates," said Montgomery College's communications department, in a statement. "Students who have not graduated from a MCPS high school within the last three years must provide proof of residency to receive the lowest rate, unless otherwise permitted by law."
Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, is supportive of the college and its tuition policies and critical of McDonough.
"By offering in-state tuition to qualifying students, they are helping to ensure that we continue to have a well-educated and dynamic workforce, which is a benefit to all Montgomery County residents," said Madaleno, who is sponsoring the Maryland Dream Act, a bill that would allow undocumented students to pay the in-state or in-county tuition at all Maryland public universities.
"Instead of working to find constructive solutions to the issues that are facing our community, Delegate McDonough is making a name for himself," Madaleno said.
The taxpayers appear to have legal precedence on their side. In a similar situation with Prince George's Community College in 2006, the Maryland attorney general issued an opinion saying that the college's board of trustees "currently lacks the authority to extend in-county tuition benefits to undocumented aliens."
The attorney general's opinion said that in-county tuition is based on residence, which cannot be established by people who entered the country illegally.
"An individual who is neither a citizen of the United States nor lawfully admitted to this country does not have the legal capacity to be domiciled in Maryland," the opinion reads.