Illinois Dream Fund aids undocumented students

By Hallie Zolkower-Kutz

Undocumented students CAn now apply for college scholarships through the Illinois Dream Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting students who don’t have U.S. citizenship.

The commission charged with raising money for the Dream Fund was formed in February and has raised  $500,000, according to the Associated Press.

It will award scholarships of up to $2,000 for students at two-year colleges and $6,000 for students who are attending four-year institutions. The fund started accepting applications Nov. 1, and applicants must have a GPA of 2.5 or higher to be eligible.

According to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Illinois Dream Act in August 2011, which created the Illinois Dream Fund Commission. The commission complies with standards set forth by the U.S. Dream Act, which is still being debated. The national Dream Act would give undocumented students a conditional path to citizenship if they entered the country before the age of 15 and have graduated high school or obtained a GED, according to the Dream Act website.

The act takes into consideration that many undocumented students have lived in the U.S. for most of their lives, and it would benefit the estimated 65,000 undocumented youths in the country who graduate from high school, according to The Illinois Dream Act has fewer requirements than the national Dream Act to receive a scholarship and is designed to allow undocumented students access to scholarships, college savings and prepaid tuition programs as long as they graduated from an Illinois high school, according to the Dream Fund website.

Tanya Cabrera, chairwoman of the Illinois Dream Fund, has been working with the state government to provide funding for undocumented students.

“Now it’s the [Cook County] board and their initiatives serving as a driving force to move forward on raising these funds,” Cabrera said.

The Illinois Dream Fund mission statement says that educating undocumented students today will provide the world with the leaders of tomorrow.

The fund will spread awareness that undocumented and native-born students often have the same education goals, according to Giovany Gomez, media coordinator of La Fuerza Juventud, a local  organization in support of the Dream Fund.

“We’re all here trying to study and move ahead and help out our community,” Gomez said. “[The fund] allows [undocumented students] to get the money they need to buy everything required to study.”

According to Gomez, La Fuerza Juventud has been seeking government aid.

“We’re in conversations with state representatives, and one of our demands is that there be some kind of fund allocated through the government to help these undocumented students,” he said.

The Illinois Dream Fund subsists on private contributions.

“Our goal is to raise $5 million, but personally, I’m looking to raise up to $12 million,” Cabrera said. “We’re trying to help as many students as possible.”

Karen Herrejon, a sophomore journalism major and a member of Columbia’s Latino Alliance, said she believes Chicago’s undocumented students will benefit from the Illinois Dream Fund.

“I think it’s good motivation for students who feel there is no way to go to school, get an education and be a productive member of society,” Herrejon said. “It’s leveling out the playing field and giving an opportunity for

undocumented students.”

Now that the fund is accepting applications, members of its commission will take steps to determine how the money will be distributed.

“The most difficult part will be when the committee will have to decide who to award scholarships to,” Cabrera said.