Josh Kurtz: A DREAM Denied?

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When my family moved to Takoma Park from New Mexico in 1995, a co-worker at my new job, who lived in Bethesda, said to me, “We love Takoma Park and thought about moving there. But, you know, the schools…”

It was a not-too-veiled suggestion that the student population in the southeastern corner of Montgomery County was a little too dark and a little too poor for middle-class white families – even liberals – to feel comfortable. It was a sentiment I would pick up more than a few times over the years from people who lived in more prosperous parts of the county.

I thought about that yesterday as I watched my older daughter strut across the stage in her too-high heels at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington to pick up her high school diploma – a happy product, like her younger sister, of those supposedly troubled schools.

In a school that at this point is at most 40 percent white, my older daughter’s best friends have been an Indian-American girl; a girl whose family is from Eritrea; a girl who was born in Vietnam; a girl whose father is from Eastern Europe and whose mother is from Africa; and, for good measure, a gay African-American boy. My younger daughter similarly has a rainbow coalition of good friends.

To me, their school looks like America. And as she prepares to go to college, my daughter is now worried about adapting to a campus where the student population is almost 90 percent white.

How many in my daughter’s graduating class of 600-plus students are children of illegal immigrants? It’s hard to say. But considering the neighborhood demographics, there are bound to be several.

How many will benefit from the DREAM Act, the new state law that provides in-state college tuition to children of illegals? Also hard to say. But it was hard not to ponder that question, watching this multicultural parade yesterday, as the total number of petition signatures calling for a referendum to overturn the state’s new DREAM Act continues to rise.

If ever there was a movement that shows the worst in our modern politics, this may be it. We should be promoting educational opportunities for all, not penalizing kids who are pursuing higher education – and preparing to be productive members of society – because their parents happened to land here illegally.

And it’s especially dispiriting to watch members of the Baltimore County Council and other political leaders rush to show their support for the referendum. We’re better than that – or at least we should be. But immigration is demagogued daily at the national level. Why should Maryland be different?

Make no mistake, if this referendum makes it to the statewide ballot in 2012, it will almost certainly pass. The speed with which DREAM Act opponents have collected petition signatures has been impressive – and instructive. And the coalition that ultimately puts it over the top may defy conventional wisdom and Maryland’s traditional political math (and map).

If you needed convincing that this state isn’t as liberal as it’s cracked up to be, here is another example. This is the sequel to the time when Bob Ehrlich called multiculturalism “crap” – and only a few liberal pundits complained.

The referendum will surely get support in most of the conservative and rural areas of the state. But some Eastern Shore communities, where immigrant labor has been the backbone of the local economy, may be an exception. Most of Baltimore County, and a number of voters in other Baltimore suburbs and exurbs, will also support it.

But here’s a distressing thought – a significant chunk of voters in Baltimore city and Prince George’s County may embrace the measure as well. A surprising number of African-American leaders actively opposed a gay marriage bill as it moved through the General Assembly this year before ultimately stalling. In a sputtering economy, they might be just as inclined to oppose legislation that’s seen as aiding one class of people not their own – Latinos – as conservative white political leaders.

Then even in Montgomery County – polyglot Montgomery County – support for the DREAM Act may not be all that widespread, no matter how urgently and forcefully the politicians try to defend it. DREAM Act supporters are kidding themselves if they think logic – and reasoned arguments – will prevail.

At my daughter’s graduation yesterday, the guest speaker was Fernando Reimers, a Harvard professor and former World Bank official. Born and educated in Venezuela, he has dedicated his entire adult life to maximizing educational and economic opportunities for the poor, emphasizing what he calls “the common humanity that unites us all” rather than the searing socioeconomic differences that too often divide us.

It was a beautiful message, perfect not just for idealistic young ears but for the older and more cynical among us as well. Too bad it will be drowned out as the debate to kill the DREAM Act intensifies.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Frack This!

The Undercard

Talking Union Blues

The Peter Principle

Mapmaker, Mapmaker Make Me a Map

Two More Giants Exit the Maryland Scene

Six Degrees of William Donald Schaefer

The Lion in Winter

O’Malley’s (Coast to Coast) March

This Time It's Personal

Seinfeld in Maryland

The First 107 Days

Team of Rivals?

Rob Garagiola’s Political Highway

Blame the Teachers!

The Nine Lives of the ICC

The Incredible Shrinking City

Paying the Fare
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.