College loans for illegals becomes U.S. political issue

The Illinois DREAM Act, recently signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn, gives undocumented immigrant students access to privately funded college tuition assistance. Illinois, a state with one of the highest populations of illegal aliens, is the latest to pass such a measure. But lawmakers in other states, most notably Maryland, are working to stop similar legislation.

Illinois is the latest state to draft legislation giving undocumented students an opportunity to complete a higher education. The Illinois DREAM Act creates a commission that will oversee the distribution of financial aid to applicants.

The measure enjoyed bipartisan support when it passed in the state legislature earlier this year. But Kristen Williamson, a spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, says her organization opposes it.

“This opposition doesn’t come from trying to punish the kids or students for the sins of their parents, but rather not reward the parents for illegal activity. With the DREAM Fund commission, specifically in Illinois, although the money is coming from private funds, the funds are tax exempt,” Ms. Williamson said.

And Ms. Williamson says opposition against similar measures in other states throughout the country is growing.

“Illinois is moving in the opposite direction of the rest of the country. I believe that there are 11 other states that have a version of the DREAM Act and I think in nine of them there are movements to get rid of it,” said Maryland State Delegate Patrick McDonough.

In April, lawmakers in Maryland passed a law that would provide in-state tuition discounts under certain circumstances to undocumented students.

“It’s a displacement of a citizen. If they get a certain slot at an education institution or they receive a certain scholarship or benefit, that is money that is going to be displaced that could be available in these very difficult economic times to a family member or an American citizen,” said McDonough, a Republican who opposed the measure in Maryland.

He spearheaded a successful petition drive in Maryland to suspend the legislation. He says close to 75,000 people signed the petition. The issue now goes before voters in a statewide referendum during next year’s general elections.

“In Maryland, it’s going to have a big impact. It’s going to bring out to vote a tremendous number of people, many of whom have never voted before. It’s going to affect our congressional and U.S. Senate races. And I intend to run for the United States Senate against incumbent Democrat Ben Cardin, and it’s certainly going to have an impact on that race,” McDonough added.

Legislation for a national DREAM Act, or Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, which provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, was first introduced in the U.S. Congress in 2001. It passed the House of Representatives last year, but did not have the support necessary in the Senate to become law. The legislation was reintroduced in May in response to President Barack Obama’s call for a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Lawmakers have yet to take up the measure.

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