CHICAGO – In front of a packed auditorium at Benito Juarez High School in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today signed into law legislation giving undocumented immigrant students in Illinois the right to pay in-state tuition rates at state universities and community colleges.
“I’m where I am today because I was allowed to pursue the American Dream. My immigrant parents worked hard so I could get an education and make a contribution to my community,” Blagojevich said. “All of our young people should have the same opportunity regardless of their immigrant status.”
House Bill 60, sponsored by state Rep. Edward Acevedo and state Sen. Antonio Munoz, extends in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrant students who attend Illinois high schools for at least three years and graduate from an Illinois high school.
“This new law would address one of the fundamental problems facing immigrants, no matter what their immigration status might be – access to education and, more importantly, access to affordable higher education,” said Sen. Munoz.
Currently, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for in-state tuition at most Illinois schools and must pay out of state rates, which can be two to three times more. Only two of the state’s nine public universities – University of Illinois and Northeastern University – allow undocumented Illinois students to pay in-state tuition rates.
The new law includes a provision requiring undocumented students to apply for permanent legal citizenship at the earliest opportunity.
“We’re opening the door for these students to fully embrace the American dream that brought their parents to this country,” explained Rep. Acevedo.
Several students gathered at today’s bill signing lobbied legislators in Springfield earlier this spring, arguing they would be unable to pursue a higher education without access to the lower tuition rates made available to their classmates.
“I was brought to this country 11 years ago, when I was 8, by my mother to be reunited with my father, who was a legal resident of the United States. Then my father died, and with him my only opportunity of obtaining legal residency,” said Sandra, an undocumented immigrant and former honors student who graduated from Lane Tech High School. “I am currently attending a community college because that is the only thing my mother and I can afford. But it is my dream to be able to attend a state university.”
Illinois became the seventh state today – joining Texas, California, New York, Utah, Washington and Oklahoma – to extend in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrant students attending its state universities or colleges. The Illinois State Board of Higher Education estimates that between 3,000 and 4,000 undocumented high school graduates will qualify for in-state tuition under the new law.