An Attainable Dream: The Passage of the Illinois State DREAM Act

Representative Edward Acevedo (D-Ill)

If you dedicate yourself to the American dream, than I believe you are American. Unfortunately, that dream has been denied to too many hardworking immigrants in our country, thanks in large part to continuing partisan disagreement over immigration reform.

That’s why I’m proud that we in Illinois were able to look past these partisan disagreements in order to take commonsense steps that would help give all children in Illinois a fair chance at a brighter future through the Illinois DREAM Act.  Signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn on August 1, 2011, this law will help make the American dream a reality for many young men and women who are doing everything they can to achieve a better life.

This law is important both as a significant step forward for Illinois, and as a model for other states that care about extending opportunity.

Most people believe that anything relating to immigration is dead on arrival due to deep partisan divides on immigration. This couldn’t have been further from the truth when our state legislature considered the Illinois DREAM Act earlier this year. The Act passed the Senate in early May with a bipartisan vote of 45 to 11. Later in the month, we passed it by a much closer vote in the House, but again with a bipartisan vote of 61 to 53.

This groundbreaking law includes several different components, each of which will help children of immigrants who are dedicated to their education. 

First, the Act creates the DREAM Fund, a privately funded scholarship fund administered by state-appointed volunteers. Among students with at least one immigrant parent, the DREAM Fund will have the authority to award scholarships to those who have attended school in Illinois for at least three years and have graduated from high school or received a GED in Illinois. The DREAM Fund will use no public money and has already begun to receive donations.

Second, the law opens certain college savings programs to immigrant students whose parents have a valid Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) issued by the US Treasury. This slight change in eligibility will help families save for college and overcome what can often seem like insurmountable barriers to higher education.

Third, the Act also takes the important step of training high school guidance counselors and college personnel to work with children of immigrants. This will ensure that students are aware of the scholarships available to them and will have someone to turn to throughout the application process. 

In the past, children of immigrants, particularly those who themselves were undocumented, were told incorrectly that they were ineligible for any form of financial aid and that they would not be allowed to attend college. Addressing this misinformation will help more students make their dreams of a college education a reality.

The principles of this law also affirm what I already know to be true—education is a civil right. 

Until now, this wasn’t true in Illinois.  Before the DREAM Act, a large segment of our state had been cut off from the opportunity for accurate information about attending colleges and, as a result, denied the opportunity to participate in programs that help prepare them for higher education.

Now these hardworking students have the right to an education, and the support they need to enjoy and take advantage of that right.

No state can go it alone on immigration. Many important questions will be left to the federal government.

Yet with this law, Illinois will be able to change the lives of thousands of students who are now able to achieve their dreams of pursuing a higher education. I am proud to have sponsored the DREAM Act, and I hope others will follow our lead in making the American dream a reality for all students in this country.


Representative Edward Acevedo represents the second district in the Illinois State Legislature.

 

This article was originally published by Spotlight on Poverty & Opportunity. It is reprinted here with permission.


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