Emanuel backs scholarships for undocumented immigrants

May 13, 2011

Download Story
(WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)
Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel says the Illinois DREAM Act would serve the state’s interests.

Chicago’s most powerful politicians are lining up behind Illinois and federal bills that would give some undocumented immigrants a boost.

Both measures are known as the DREAM Act. The Illinois version, approved by the state Senate last week, would set up privately funded scholarships for undocumented college students who grew up in this country.

The federal version would lay a path to citizenship for the students. That measure has stalled repeatedly over the last decade, but U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, reintroduced it Wednesday.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle voiced support for the bills Friday afternoon at downtown Chicago offices of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

So did Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, who said the Illinois version would serve the state’s interests. Emanuel said those included “giving children of undocumented immigrants a chance at an education and, most important, with that education a chance at the American dream.”

In the past, Emanuel has disappointed immigrant-rights leaders. His support for the Illinois DREAM Act could warm his relations with them.

The state Senate vote was 45-11. In the House, Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, is backing the bill. Gov. Pat Quinn has said he would sign it into law.

Some of the bill’s Republican supporters, meanwhile, are hearing from constituents who confuse it with the federal version or say the scholarships would lure more illegal immigrants to Illinois.

Prospects for the federal bill appear bleak. In December, when Democrats controlled the U.S. House, the measure narrowly passed that chamber. Now Republicans have taken over the House and increased their numbers in the Senate.