Gov. Pat Quinn announced the DREAM Fund Commission at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights ( ICIRR ) summit Feb. 4, extending scholarships to immigrant and first-generation students.
The commission is a provision of the Illinois DREAM ( Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors ) Act, which Quinn signed in August 2011.
"We have to get the DREAM Act going here, because it's all about scholarships and learning and making sure that folks who have the opportunity to go to college, who have the ability to go to college, have the finances to go to college," said Quinn. "Scholarships are so important in our state and in our country because they reward hard work."
Students that completed high school while residing with their parents in Illinois for at least three years and have at least one parent who immigrated to the United States are eligible for the program.
The goal of the Illinois DREAM Act is to bridge the education gap for immigrant families. An estimated 65 percent of immigrant families earn below 200 percent of the poverty line, and undocumented immigrants are ineligible for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid ( FAFSA ) .
The Illinois DREAM Act also allows anyone with a Social Security or tax identification number to participate in a state-operated college savings pool, and requires high school counselors to provide college information to all children of immigrants.
Quinn vowed to donate $1,000 to the scholarship fund, once the commission secured a bank account.
"Everyone on the land mass known as the United States of America is an American," said Illinois Senate President John Cullerton at the ICIRR summity. "The history of America is that everybody came from somewhere else. They came here and worked with their fellow Americans to make this the greatest country in the whole wide world."
Many political leaders in the LGBT community attended the ICIRR summit, including Rep. Greg Harris, Rep. Kelly Cassidy and Alderman James Cappleman. David Munar, president and CEO of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, and Jim Bennett, regional director of Lambda Legal, also lended their support.
Summit participants were able to apply for citizenship at a workshop lead by the Instituto del Progreso Latino. Volunteers assisted 187 people with filling out the 10-page application, reviewing their case with lawyers and applying for a waiver of the $680 application fee.
"These days, instead of applying for citizenship becoming easier through reforms, it seems to me it has gone backwards," said state Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, a chief co-sponsor of the Illinois DREAM Act and first-generation American.
"Most of the people come here because they don't have means to pay a lawyer," said Ambrosio Martinez, collaborative coordinator at Instituto del Progreso Latino. "Most of them are very low income or might not be working, and we give them an opportunity to acquire citizenship."
Instituto del Progreso Latino hosts citizenship drives twice per month, with the next one scheduled for Feb. 18. See www.IDPL.org .
The governor also highlighted his solidarity with the Illinois immigrant community and his rejection of Secure Communities, a law enforcement initiative that automatically checks arrestee fingerprints against Department of Homeland Security databases.
"We've got to really be vigilant here, and I think that's what this movement is all about," said Quinn. "It's ordinary, everyday people, heroic people banding together for causes they believe in. I believe in your cause, and I know that we're going to win."