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Illinois is on the verge of becoming the first state to create a private college scholarship fund for the children of undocumented immigrants.
The Illinois House, which on Thursday passed a state version of the DREAM Act by a 61-53 vote, sent a bill to Gov. Pat Quinn that would set up a state fund that would route privately funded college scholarships to as many as 95,000 children of undocumented immigrants.
The children would be able to obtain private college scholarships and enroll in state savings programs.
The measure, which Quinn, a Democrat, has said he plans to sign, had already passed the state Senate.
In a statement released after the House passed the measure, Quinn said: "I believe everyone has the right to a first-class education, and the Illinois DREAM Act strengthens Illinois' commitment to ensuring education for all."
"The legislation allows private funding to be used to help students pay for higher education and to train high school counselors to assist undocumented children forward their educational careers."
Supporters praised the legislation as a much-needed way to offer financial help to undocumented immigrants who graduate from Illinois high schools and want to continue their studies in college but can't afford it.
The Illinois Dream Act would create a panel to raise private money for college scholarships and let the children of immigrants join programs that help them invest money and save for college.
"These students deserve an opportunity. They work hard. We send them through grade school, we send them through high school, then we slam a door in their face and say `Oh well, all the hard work is for nothing. You can't go to college,"' said state Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago.
To qualify for the college savings pool, students must have a Social Security number or taxpayer identification number. Scholarship recipients must have at least one immigrant parent and the student must have attended school in Illinois for at least three years.
Carla Navoa, a 22-year-old student at the University of Illinois at Chicago who is in the country illegally, lobbied for the bill because it will help others like her pay for college.
She said she currently isn't enrolled in college because of the financial stress on her family with a younger sister in college, too.
"Having access to this Dream Fund would really help us," Navoa said.
Opponents have criticized the legislation as improper because it provides benefits that could help people who violate immigration laws. They also have complained it's confusing because of proposed federal legislation by the same name that would give some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
The Illinois Dream Act has no impact on a person's immigration status and it doesn't offer a path to citizenship.
This is based on a story by The Associated Press.