Jim Rosapepe made a simple statement to introduce himself and the crowd erupted in cheer.
"I was born in Italy," he said.
Rosapepe, a democratic Maryland senator who represents part of Prince George's County and parts of Odenton in Anne Arundel County, spoke to roughly 1,500 Latino high school and college students from across the state during a rally held on Lawyers' Mall in Annapolis on Monday.
The event, arranged by CASA de Maryland—a community organization founded by Central American refugees and North Americans in 1985, according to www.casademaryland.org—was held to support Senate Bill 167, often referred to as the Maryland Dream Act. If passed, the legislation would allow Maryland's high performing undocumented immigrant students to attend college locally at in-state tuition rates.
Folks at the rally also demonstrated against what CASA describes as Maryland’s “29 anti-immigrant bills.”
Rosapepe was among several politicians, faith and civil rights leaders at the rally who support the proposed legislation.
“We are a nation of immigrants,” Rosapepe said. “I understand the pride these people have in their heritage.”
U.S. immigration laws are “clearly broken,” Rosapepe said. “But that’s no reason to deny students a good education."
Several students also spoke at the rally. One young woman said that the United States requires all immigrant children to attend school upon arrival in the country. Yet, she questioned why the nation denies such students a higher education at rates equal to American-born residents.
The rally followed meetings that CASA organized for the Latino students to address their concerns before delegates and senators.
About 200 students from Anne Arundel County waited nearly 40 minutes to talk to their representatives.
Delegate Nic Kipke (R-Pasadena) approached the group because he wanted to "say hi," he said.
When students pressed for his support, Kipke said he can’t back the proposed legislation that would offer immigrant students in-state tuition rates.
Kipke talked of "amendments that are coming" and said he would like to see a compromise in the proposal.
“I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to go to college,” he said. “I worked my way up ... I grew up on welfare.”
Aude Negrete of CASA asked Kipke to consider the Latino students’ position.
“If they’re not legal residents, they’re not my constituents,” Kipke said.