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I am very proud to say that on May 30th, the Illinois legislature passed SB2185, the Illinois DREAM Act! This new law will help an estimated 95,000 immigrant youth pay for college. The bipartisan vote passed the House 61-53, and the Senate 45-11. Illinois is the first state to pass such a law.

The measure would establish a privately funded Illinois DREAM fund, administered by a volunteer staff commission, to make scholarships available to children of immigrants who graduate from state high schools. It would also train high school counselors and college admissions officers to be fully informed about educational resources and opportunities for immigrant students. The bill would also allow families to participate in the state’s two college tuition savings programs.

The bill does not include a path to citizenship, however, but not at the fault of the state legislature. Immigration laws can be changed by federal legislation only. Last December, the federal DREAM Act, while it passed the House, was voted down in the Senate, 55-41. Normally, 55 votes would be enough to pass a bill, but, as with many bills being considered last year, they required 60 votes to break past a Republican filibuster.

The Illinois bill has the support of U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D), Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cardinal Francis George, as well as “15 university presidents and hundreds of faith and business leaders and community organizations.” Governor Pat Quinn (D) has also said that he supports the bill and will sign it into law.

“I believe everyone has the right to a first-class education, and the Illinois DREAM Act strengthens Illinois’ commitment to ensuring education for all.”

“The legislation provides private funding to be used to help students pay for higher education and to train high school counselors to assist undocumented children [to] forward their educational careers. This legislation will support our next generation of scholars, business leaders and innovators, and I look forward to signing it.”

Over the past ten years, the Latino voting block in Illinois has reportedly grown by nearly 500,000. Lawrence Benito, deputy director with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said, "This vote is very important for Latinos, immigrants and their supporters, who will remember this vote in 2012." I have to say, he’s absolutely right. Across the country, Hispanics are the demographic that grew the most between 2000 and 2010. Based on 2010 Census data, The L.A. Times reports:

[Hispanics] accounted for more than half of the 27.3 million population increase in the last decade.

The Hispanic population in the United States grew by 43% in the last decade, surpassing 50 million and accounting for about 1 out of 6 Americans, the Census Bureau reported

If other states and the federal government continue to ignore, or in some cases outright harass, the Hispanic community, they will all have an increasing number of constituents to answer to. Everyone should be able to afford to go to college. Every immigrant should be able to become a citizen. Every family should be able to stay together without fear of deportation. Governments must provide these opportunities and securities to the people they serve. I am proud that Illinois is doing the right thing. Hopefully, other states will soon follow.

~ Samantha
Community Editor