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State House passes Illinois version of DREAM Act for children of immigrants

Updated: May 30, 2011 6:58PM

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House passed a state version of the DREAM Act Thursday in a vote hailed by immigration-rights advocates as historic.

By a 61-53 vote, the House approved and sent to Gov. Pat Quinn legislation that would set up a state fund that would route privately funded college scholarships to as many as 95,000 children of undocumented immigrants.

Quinn has expressed support for the legislation, whose chief House sponsor was Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago).

The measure, also pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cardinal Francis George, would allow undocumented immigrants ages 18 to 29 with taxpayer-identification cards to invest in the state’s Bright Start and College Illinois programs.

“I’m super excited this bill got passed. Illinois is going on a different path,” said Rep. Maria Antonia Berrios (D-Chicago), co-chair of the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus.

Similar legislation on a federal level failed in Congress last year. Passage in Illinois is another example of the growing influence of Illinois’ Latinos, a bloc that grew by nearly 500,000 people since the 2000 Census.

“Today’s bipartisan vote in the Illinois House is truly historic,” said Lawrence Benito, deputy director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which spearheaded passage of the bill. “This vote is a victory for our state and an important step forward in recognizing the contributions of immigrants.”

If Quinn signs the legislation, Benito said Illinois would become the first state to create a private scholarship fund for the children of undocumented Latinos.

Only one lawmaker stood during floor debate to oppose the legislation, asking essentially why the state should sanction undocumented residents.

“A lot of people feel they shouldn’t be spending their tax dollars for people who aren’t citizens or people who are trying to become citizens,” said Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-Hinckley), who voted against the measure.

But Acevedo insisted that wasn’t the case.

“There’s not one tax dollar that goes into this program,” he said.

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