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Quinn signs Illinois Dream Act

Monday, August 01, 2011

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a law Monday that gives undocumented immigrants access to private scholarships for college.

The Illinois Dream Act also allows those students to enroll in state-run college savings programs.

Quinn called the new law "landmark" legislation.

As the crowd waiting outside signaled, there was not enough room inside the Benito Juarez High School auditorium for everyone to witness the governor signing the historic bill.

"The state of Illinois is the first state in the country to set up this sort of scholarship fund that allows for undocumented students to have the dream to realize the dream of going to college," said Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd Ward.

The Dream Act as passed by the Illinois House and Senate sets up a public commission to raise money from private donors. There will be no taxpayer dollars used to fund the scholarships.

"It's totally voluntary. We gotta raise money for this. It's not gonna be easy but we can do it," said Gov. Quinn.

"This is going to be a fund that's going to be available not only to undocumented immigrants but to all immigrants here in Illinois," said State Rep. Eddie Acevedo, (D) 2nd District, Chicago.

The politicians understood that immigrants - especially those from Mexico - are Illinois' fastest-growing population.

"This is an opportunity to put your roots down, to give your children and your family a new chapter to begin and it starts with the most important thing you can do, an education," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

College of DuPage student Rubi Mesino could use some help paying for school. She arrived in this country 17 years ago from Mexico with her undocumented parents. She has no social security number and lives every day in fear of being deported from the only country she's ever known.

"No matter what obstacles I have to overcome, I will get over them," she said. "I don't know what tomorrow will bring. I just know that I'm living today and this is what I'm doing right now," she said.

The governor's office estimates that 21 percent of all the students attending Illinois public schools are Latino and a large percentage of them live in homes where one or more parents is an undocumented immigrant.

""These children, these young men and women are really children to admire because they have demonstrated such couragel," said State Rep. Lisa Hernandez, 24th District.

A spokesman for the Minuteman organization said the state Dream Act is subverting federal efforts to stop illegal immigration.

"I don't understand why these politicians are always pandering to illegal immigrants," said Rick Biesada, director of the Chicago Minuteman Organization.

Mesino says she knows the risk of going public with her support for the Dream Act.

"There are a million students out there that are afraid to have an interview just like this one because they're putting at risk themselves, their family and everybody around them in their circle," she said. "You never want to come home after having a great time with your friends and come home to an empty house knowing that your parents have been taken away."

The governor still has to appoint the Dream Act commission before it can officially begin raising money and dispersing it for scholarships.

Immigration reformers also hope the dream act will re-ignite their movement. They are calling it another step - albeit on the state level - toward comprehensive federal immigration reform.

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