The Illinois House of Representatives' executive committee approved legislation May 24 designed to help the state's undocumented students pay for college.
The bill, SB-2185, known as the Illinois DREAM Act, would establish a privately funded college scholarship for children of immigrants. If passed, immigrant children could apply for the funds. It would also allow the students to invest in the state's college savings program. A DREAM commission would be established to administer the funds, which would cost taxpayers nothing. The measure would enable high school counselors and college admissions offices to be fully informed regarding educational opportunities for immigrant youth.
The measure was approved in the state Senate earlier this month in a bi-partisan vote of 45 to 11. It advanced out of the House committee this week by a 7 to 4 party line vote with no Republican support. It now heads to the House floor for a vote, but it's unclear when. Supporters plan to lobby lawmakers at the State Capitol in Springfield to urge elected officials to vote for its passage. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn supports the bill.
The bill gets its name from a federal piece of legislation also known as the DREAM Act, which almost passed Congress last winter. That measure was re-introduced this month by Democrats in the U.S. Senate. It would allow millions of undocumented students higher education opportunities, including a path to citizenship if they attend college or join the military.
Although the Illinois version does not include a path to citizenship for undocumented youth, activists say it's a move other states could follow in countering some of the anti-immigrant measures being proposed.
The Illinois bill has bipartisan support in the state assembly. Thirteen university presidents, including University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer, faith and business leaders and hundreds of community organizations have also endorsed it.
In a statement on its website, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is urging state Republicans to support education for deserving immigrant youth.
"Latinos and immigrants will be shocked if the dreams of immigrant children in Illinois are derailed by Republican partisanship," says the coalition. "Given the growing numbers of Asian and Latino voters in suburban Chicago and the Democratic controlled re-map process, this could be a political mistake as well." The coalition is referring to Democrats that control the state legislature and are currently finalizing redistricting maps throughout the state following last year's Census numbers.
Immigrant rights activists say the Illinois DREAM Act opens doors for immigrant youth who grew up in Illinois to attend college in order to give back to their communities.