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Illinois Senate, California Assembly Pass State DREAM Act Bills

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california dream actHuge news this week on the DREAM Act front: both Illinois and California in the last few days have taken the lead among states—and the federal government—in advancing common-sense positions on immigration reform.

On Wednesday—the same day Governor Pat Quinn announced that Illinois would no longer be participating in Secure Communities—the state senate overwhelmingly approved a local version of the DREAM Act.

Passed by a 45-11 margin, with no Republicans voting in favor, the bill would “establish a state commission to dole out privately funded scholarships to as many as 95,000 children of undocumented immigrants.  No taxpayer dollars would be used.”  The bill now moves to the Illinois House, where lawmakers will have an opportunity to ensure that Illinois is ahead of the curve in recognizing the important benefits of this legislation on Illinois’ economy and society. 

According to the Chicago Tribune, Senate President John Cullerton defended his yes vote by saying that it was “unfair to penalize illegal immigrant children for their parents’ actions…the bill would lead to a brighter economic future by allowing more immigrant children to finish college and therefore increase the state’s attractiveness with a more educated workforce.“

“We all remember back when we were children,” the Chicago Democrat said during floor debate. “We did not have many choices. We did not choose where to live, we did not choose what clothes to wear, we did not choose what food to eat.” 

Our own Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, agreed:

Just as it makes no sense to force police to participate in a program that makes their job more difficult while separating families, it makes no sense for the state to close the doors of opportunity to talented young people who are Americans in all but paperwork.  It’s particularly heartening to note the bi-partisan support for the DREAM Act during yesterday’s vote – despite examples to the contrary in Washington, many Illinois Senate Republicans recognized that offering talented young people a chance to contribute to the state should not be a partisan issue. 

The legislation—championed by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and courageous DREAMers themselves, would also allow undocumented immigrants to participate in the state college savings program.

Yesterday, California took a step still further, when the state Assembly passed its local DREAM Act, AB 130, by a vote of 51-21.  That bill would allow for “undocumented students who already meet the residency criteria for California in-state tuition to obtain scholarships that are not derived from state funds.”  Private gifts or endowments totaled more than $72 million nationwide last year.

AB 130 was sponsored by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), who—in his belief that education is the only ticket out of a lifetime of hardship—has proposed similar legislation every year since 2005.  Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzengger has repeatedly vetoed them, but the new Democratic Governor Jerry Brown is expected to approve the DREAM Act if it clears the state Senate.

Cedillo has also introduced AB 131, which would allow undocumented students to qualify for Cal Grants and state financial aid.  That more controversial bill still remains in committee.

The campaigns in Ilinois and California are the latest efforts to pass local legislation in the wake of last December’s failed attempt to push a national DREAM Act through the U.S. Senate. Last month, Maryland’s legislature sent a bill to Governor Martin O’Malley, who has yet to sign the provision.  The Oregon Senate has passed a “tuition equity” bill, though its House has yet to act.  Most disappointingly, a DREAM Act bill in Colorado cleared the state Senate but was killed in the House.