A DREAM Come True for Illinois' Undocumented?

With signing of bill, state's imprint in the debate over undocumented immigrants will be felt.

Thrusting the state into the middle of the heated immigration debate, Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign in the coming weeks the Illinois DREAM Act that offers as many as 95,000 undocumented youths better access to higher education. 

A source told Patch that Quinn would sign the legislation on Aug. 1, making Illinois the first state in the country to create a privately funded scholarship program for undocumented high school graduates who want to attend college.

For Loyola Academy guidance counselor, Sarah Kennedy, the bill's passage would be a message of hope. "I think sometimes undocumented students feel they don't have a voice," Kennedy said. "They have a lot of fear that keeps them from being fully who they are."

Kennedy has been working with Ramblers on the issue since 2006, when she assisted a student-run documentary that revolved around around two undocumented Loyola attendees. If Quinn approves the DREAM Act in August, it would give students chance to "feel part of a greater community," she added.  ()

The bill--formally SB 2185--passed with bipartisan support in the state House and Senate. In a rare development, Catholic church and the state's top political leaders--who do not always see eye-to-eye on many social issues--joined forces to push for passage of the legislation. 

Awaiting Quinn's signature

The Senate forwarded the measure, which got its legs in February, for Quinn's signature on June 13. The D-R-E-A-M in the act stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. 

With the growing influence of the Hispanic bloc--whose numbers have grown by nearly 500,000 in a state with 12.83 million residents, according to the latest U.S. Census figures--the vote was also seen as a recognition of the changing political reality in Illinois.

State Rep. Daniel Biss (D-Skokie), who represents several North Shore towns wth large ethnic populations, told Skokie Patch that the legislation would have long-term economic benefits for the state.

"I supported the bill because it's a step toward enabling individuals who have done nothing wrong to maximize their opportunity to contribute to the Illinois economy," Biss said. 

State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston), one of the legislative co-sponsors, had told reporters the bill "illustrates exactly what is great about this country" by providing opportunity for children of immigrants "to achieve a better future through higher education."

The legislation allows any individual, including undocumented students, with a Social Security or taxpayer identification number to participate in a state-operated college savings pool. Currently, there are the Bright Start and Bright Directions college savings programs, both overseen by the State Treasurer's Office, and the College Illinois Prepaid Tuition Program. Families can use the programs to squirrel away money for college expenses.

In addition, high school counselors will be required to provide college information to all undocumented students and children of immigrants.

Thirdly, the measure requires the establishment of nine-member Illinois DREAM Fund Commission to manage the program, whose scholarships "will be funded entirely" by private contributions.

The latter provision is one of the most contentious part of the bill. Opponents contend that the law will take away taxpayers' money intended for children of documented immigrants.

“A lot of people feel they shouldn’t be spending their tax dollars for people who aren’t citizens or people who are trying to become citizens,” state Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-Sycamore) said during the debate.

Supporters say not a single tax dollar goes to the program as the DREAM fund commission will be administered by volunteers appointed by the governor.

Benefits extend to others

While most of those who are affected are Hispanic, there are many other students who will benefit from the legislation becoming state law. 

Among them is Carla Navoa, who came from the Philippines to the U.S. with her parents at age 5. Since then, they have overstayed their U.S. visa.

The 22-year-old resident of Chicago's northern suburbs has finished her junior year at the University of Illinois in Chicago (UIC). Because of her residency status, she is unable to apply for a federal loan or other grants available to documented and other students.  

Navoa was forced to suspend her schooling to allow her parents to save the necessary money for her as well as her sister, who also will be attending UIC.

"For both of us, we will be affected by this [legislation] because it will help us pay for school" and finish college, said Navoa, who is an active member of the Illinois Youth Justice League (IYJL) that lobbied for the bill's passage.

After years of lobbying, Navoa told Patch that she was relieved that the education measure was passed, proving that Illinois "is supportive of the undocumented immigrants and is willing to be a leader in the country."

Attempts to pass similar legislation in California, where Hispanic residents make up 37.6 percent of the population compared with 15.8 percent in Illinois, have failed, but efforts have been renewed in the Golden State. 

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) deputy director Lawrence Benito hailed the bill's passage by the General Assemby as "truly historic."

“This vote is a victory for our state and an important step forward in recognizing the contributions of immigrants,” said Benito, whose organization is one of the largest immigrant lobby groups in the U.S. 

When the federal DREAM Act failed in the U.S. Congress last year, ICIRR and IYJL turned their efforts to the passage of the Illinois version of the bill.

"Those efforts paid off, showing that Illinois is not only an immigrant-friendly state but also a national leader on moving fair, humane and practical solutions forward," the ICIRR said in a statement. 

Embracing legislation

Democratic leaders throughout Illinois, including in Chicago, have welcomed the legislation. 

“I believe everyone has the right to a first-class education, and the Illinois DREAM Act strengthens Illinois’ commitment to ensuring education for all," Quinn said after the General Assembly votes on May 30.

Former Wilmettan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was chided by some groups during the mayoral campaign for his silence on the issue, said the bill was a step forward.

"Once signed by Governor Quinn, the Illinois DREAM Act will help give Chicago students the start they need to get a shot at the American Dream--a good education. I understand how important this is to our city's families, and their future success," Emanuel said in a statement sent to Patch. 

Now the fight goes back to Washington, D.C., where a new DREAM Act bill was introduced in May by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). A previous effort to pass federal legislation--first introduced in 2001--was deflated in December after it got through the House but failed to clear the Senate.

Navoa said given the "political climate" in the U.S. Congress, it is unlikely that a bill will be passed soon. But Navoa and her group are already recruiting more supporters locally.

"Come time when it is [ready]," Navoa said about the federal legislation, "we'll have at least a bigger base of people that are mobilizing" for its passage." 

Dave Francis July 21, 2011 at 04:40 PM
Arizona needs our help and those not content with the governments excuses for not constructing the REAL DOUBLE FENCE--can donate to the website at: https://www.buildtheborderfence.com/azborder/index.xhtml Organizers in the State Legislature, which created the fund the initial goal is to raise some $50 million to get the work underway. As with the previous alert for donations for combating the (ACLU) American Civil Liberties Union filings, of objections to policing laws with the federal court, the money will definitely start rolling in. It allows the average Americans who is angry and frustrated with the inability of Washington to address the problem of illegal immigration to contribute personally to the fence. Of course Leftist Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, expressed doubts about the effectiveness of physical barriers at the border, using the old diatribe about the 51 foot ladder. However, that illegal alien scaling a ladder, but being confronted by Concertina Razor wire would certainly attain a different response. The radical organization La Raza, funded by George Soros, a Marxist who has openly wants America to come under the influence of International law, would make waves about civil rights. Not mentioning that 8 million or more, illegal aliens have been occupying jobs.that should be in American hands.
Dave Francis July 21, 2011 at 04:41 PM
he Dream Act can activate yet another mass CHAIN MIGRATION, that all eventually calculated spurs a pyramid scheme of thousands upon thousands of families, as did the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform. Act. Since 1986 Act, the largest group that come here, never paid a penny into welfare, Social Security and Pensions that taxpayers have been paying ever since. There is a huge outlay for illegal immigrants that ranges from billions into the Trillions, for another Amnesty. The Tea PARTY has the--ONLY--answers to engorged government, less taxes and responsibility to Americans and not Foreign Nationals, who have invaded our country. American should not have to compete with unwelcome people from other countries, from across the worlds, which come here to have babies and stealing discretionary entitlements from legal immigrants and citizens. The Tea Party will change laws, to punish foreigners who enter this land without permission, severely; just like Mexico and other governments. The Tea Party will amend the 1986 Immigration law, to make it substantially easy for exceptional people with profession skills, to get special visas; including entrepreneurs. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, and caucus leader of the TEA PARTY is the perfect Representative of all Americans and those legalized and would enforce laws as president, including --FAIR--trade agreements for THE PEOPLE...and not subservient to Chinese importers.
ronk1957 July 22, 2011 at 07:04 PM
I love it , the more of them that go to Illinois , the less we have here. Can't wait to see them turn into another California, broke and crime filled. As in California two months ago all of the students were protesting to subsidize tuition for illegal aliens. Two months later they were protesting because their tuition increased by twelve percent due to a lack of subsidy funding. I guess they found out that their is no tuition fairy. Be careful what you wish for.
fedup August 02, 2011 at 01:57 PM
Where's my dream act? I lost most of my money in '08, my 529 college plan is on the verge of going bankrupt, Illinois can't pay pensions, Illinois has the least freedoms of any state in the U.S., and the list goes on. My kids won't qualify for any help even though I've saved and scraped for their college education. I'm going to move to Mexico and sneak back in illegally - maybe then my kids can go to college. BTW: How can you be undocumented and have a social security card? This is so screwed up. How about we make sure our own kids are educated first and foremost.


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