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Dream Act can help students get over the top

Updated: August 25, 2011 12:29AM

There is nothing to dislike about the Illinois Dream Act, which recently was passed by the Illinois Senate and is expected to move to the House for a vote in the next few weeks.

Despite its catchy name, this Dream Act is absolutely nothing like the proposed federal legislation that died in the U.S. Senate in late 2010 after hastily being attached to a Defense appropriations bill. It will not offer a path to citizenship to young illegal immigrants who serve in the military or earn a college degree.

The state’s Dream Act does, however, provide approximately 95,000 illegal immigrant youths with the opportunity to get an education. And just to be clear, this is to be accomplished without spending any taxpayer money.

It should be noted that illegal immigrants get college degrees all the time, that’s nothing new.

They often work full-time jobs between classes, take longer to earn their degrees and make all manner of sacrifices to pay for their schooling because they’re not eligible for financial aid and usually don’t qualify for lower-rate in-state tuition.

Then they can’t get started on a career in this country because no employer legally can hire them — but that’s not a good reason to not seek a higher education.

The bill would establish a commission to raise private funds and award them to students. In addition, the commission would monitor the program, research the needs of the students who attend college on the funds and provide training to existing high school guidance counselors on the opportunities available to illegal immigrant students who aspire to college.

Lastly, the bill would make it possible for students, or their parents, who currently pay income taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number to invest in the state’s college savings and pre-paid tuition programs. Students would be required to obtain an ITIN in order to participate in the program.

The bottom line is that this bill would open up opportunities and not, in any way, take a single opportunity away from any legal immigrant or U.S.-born student who also is trying to get through college at a time when the costs have spiraled out of control and student loan debts are crushing.

There is nothing more important than a good education, though these days it’s taken for granted that everyone should get one. That may be a worthy goal, but I can tell you for a fact that not everyone wants one.

When I was a high school teacher, I came in contact with all different kinds of students. Some knew for a fact that they did not, under any circumstance, want to go to college. For others a degree was merely a job-market requirement.

A very few students had full-throated passion. They soaked up information like other kids soak up celebrity gossip and dreamed of going to college to learn to do that one thing that they believed would make their lives worth living, whether that was helping people or performing onstage or designing cars or whatever.

Almost all of the “Dreamers” I’ve personally known, talked to or read about were driven by a passion that wasn’t fueled by the hope of getting “a good job,” but by how they could make the world a better place. These are not average students and deserve a glimmer of hope, even if that won’t automatically lead to a job.

We should celebrate that they might soon be getting a tiny little bit of help in their difficult quest for a college degree. Who knows, maybe by the time they graduate, the immigration laws will have miraculously changed.

Either way, it’s no skin off our nose.

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