Quinn signs bill that will help undocumented college students

August 1, 2011

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(WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)
The measure will set up a college scholarship fund for children of immigrants, legal or illegal.

A college education could soon be more affordable for thousands of undocumented immigrants in Illinois.

Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday signed into law a bill that will set up privately funded college scholarships for children of immigrants, legal or not. The program’s backers say it will be the nation’s first state-created scholarship fund benefiting undocumented immigrants.

“[It’s] certainly something that will get noticed around the country and in the Congress,” says Margie McHugh of the Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute.

The Illinois measure could build support for a federal bill called the DREAM Act, McHugh adds. That bill, introduced in May by U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, would lay a path to citizenship for many undocumented students and military members who arrived in the country before age 16. Durbin has been pushing versions of this measure since 2001.

Opponents say helping out the young people rewards their parents for violating immigration laws.

Quinn signed the scholarships bill at Benito Juárez Community Academy, a mostly Mexican high school in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended the ceremony after announcing support for the measure in May. Lobbying led by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights helped push the bill through the Illinois Senate and House that month.

Under the measure, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission will create a nonprofit organization to manage the scholarship funds. High-school guidance counselors will receive training about the program. The immigrant families will also be able to join state-run college savings programs.

Illinois and several other states already provide undocumented students in-state tuition.