Monday, August 01, 2011

Quinn signs Illinois DREAM Act

By Jamey Dunn

Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill today known as the Illinois DREAM Act, which will provide undocumented students opportunities for financial support for their college education.

“We want to leave no talent behind. We want to make sure that everyone who has the ability to do college work gets that opportunity,” Gov. Pat Quinn said at today’s bill signing in Chicago. “I think that we’re showing the whole country that our state, Illinois, the most diverse state in the whole union — we’re the best reflection of the population of America. Of the entire country’s population, we reflect it best right here in the middle of the country in the state of Illinois.”

The Illinois Dream Act will allow undocumented students to invest money into the state’s prepaid tuition program. It also calls for the creation of a privately supported tuition fund, called the DREAM fund, administered by a board of volunteers. “Until this moment, a large segment of our society has been cut off from the opportunity for accurate information on attending colleges. They have been denied the opportunity to take part in programs that help save for higher education, and denied the opportunity to apply for scholarships to [further] their education. These denials were all permitted because these students are undocumented,” said Rep. Edward Acevedo, a Chicago Democrat.

Backers say the new law was created and supported through the legislative process by grassroots efforts. Undocumented high school seniors provided input on what should be included in the bill. On such student, Arianna Salgado, said “We used our voices to express what we believed in and make sure that we were heard.” Salgado said that she struggled to find information about continuing her education when she was in her junior and senior years of high school. She said a guidance counselor told her she would never be able to attend college because she did not qualify for financial aid. She said the law “sends the message that education is valid and that every single student should be able to strive regardless of their immigration status.”

Senate President John Cullerton, a sponsor of the bill, said it could have done more to help young immigrants, who were often brought to this country without a say in the matter. “It’s not everything that we wanted, but it’s a very very good start. And this bill is going to really mean a difference for young people, who could be the valedictorian of a high school and not have the same rights as other kids when they try to go to college.”

The Illinois DREAM Act passed with bipartisan support in both chambers of the General Assembly. However, Republican supporters in the Senate met some backlash for their “yes” votes from a suburban Tea Party organization. “The Illinois Republican Senators who voted 'Yes' to DREAM Act SB 2185 are part of the problem in Illinois. Instead of focusing on issues like jobs, taxes and our economy, they are more interested in getting votes. It is clear our current elected officials are much more concerned with their reelection than what matters for the citizens of Illinois,” said a news release sent out by the Palatine Tea Party after the vote. The group accused them of “spend[ing] like drunken sailors.” However, Acevedo reiterated at today’s event that the measure will create “no cost to the taxpayers.”

When asked if applying for DREAM scholarships could make undocumented students vulnerable to deportation, Quinn said he did not think so. “Individual people can make up their own minds on this, but I think that having this scholarship fund is going to make a difference for years to come in Illinois." He voiced support for the federal DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented college students as well as young people who choose to serve in the U.S. military. The DREAM Act—sponsored by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat — failed in the Senate last December. “I think we need to keep pushing hard for everyone to be included in our democracy,” Quinn said.

Acevedo called education a “civil right” that should be extended to all who are seeking to improve themselves. “If you live here, if you came here for a better life, if you dedicate yourself to the American dream, you are American.”

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