The Daily Illini

UI leaders support bill for undocumented students

By Adam Kaz

The Fearless Undocumented Alliance (FUA) at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a student organization dedicated to making their campus undocumented-student-friendly, is working to promote the Student Access to College and Career Education Statewide Success Bill (ACCESS).JT

The bill would provide legal authority to four-year public universities in Illinois to give financial aid to undocumented students who enroll at their universities. It would allow an estimated 1,500 undocumented students in Illinois’ 14 public universities an opportunity to receive financial aid, according to the bill’s official fact sheet.JT

Amiridis, a first-generation immigrant himself, took an active interest in the bill. He said he doesn’t understand why the state allows undocumented students public education through grade 12, gives students in-state status and then denies them financial aid.

“If Illinois is going to strengthen its economic standing and its competitiveness, it must leverage it’s every asset and — make no mistake — our undocumented students are huge assets to our state, to our economy and to our future,” Amiridis said.

FUA is working with the ACCESS Bill task force to achieve their goals and recently held a press conference Wednesday at the University’s Chicago campus.

“It’s our big launch,” said Debbie PatinoJT, FAU vice president. “The big idea behind (the press conference) is we are showing the public this is happening and we have all these public figures that are behind it, and also that the public should know about what is happening right now.”

Other press conference attendees included University President Timothy Killeen, Illinois Business Coalition co-chair John Rowe, state representative Will Davis and other public and University officials concerned about the financial support of undocumented students.JT

Killeen reminded the attendees of the University’s founding principle, to bring education and opportunity to all students, regardless of their socioeconomic position. He said his predecessor, Robert Easter, a drafter of the bill, exemplified that spirit.JT

“The roots of the Student ACCESS Bill traces back a couple of years to a meeting President emeritus Bob Easter had with undocumented students studying here at UIC,” Killeen said. “They told him about their unique challenges, about the added barriers they face because they are denied access to financial aid made available to all students, and Bob Easter’s on-the-spot response was, ‘well, let’s make a law,’ and you did.”

The bill represents another step in the state’s ongoing attempts to give more support to undocumented immigrants.

In 2003, Illinois passed the In-State Tuition Bill, which classifies undocumented students who graduated from high school as Illinois residents.JT

“Illinois has a history of being a strong pro-immigrant state,” said Martin Torres, the task force’s senior policy analyst. “What we need in the state of Illinois is to make sure all students have equal opportunity for financial aid.”

State rep. Lisa HernandezJT is the chief sponsor of the bill in the state House of Representatives. She and Senator Iris MartinezJT also voiced their support for the bill.

“I think that we’re in good standing,” Hernandez said. “We had an exercise occur in the house, and I know we have strong advocate in the senate who is going to work on the bill … we are going to get this done.”

Hernandez said Martinez rallies her support for the bill as a means to change the opportunity structures in Illinois.

“This is morally the right thing to do,” Martinez said. “While this bill is focused on financial aid for students at four-year public universities, we know the passage of the Student ACCESS Bill will change how middle and high school students view their opportunities to go to college.”

The bill will be brought to Springfield in the spring, said Amalia PallaresJT, associate professor of political science at UIC and co-chair of the Student ACCESS Bill Task Force.

“The next step is reaching out to more community organizations, informing what more people can do,” Patino said. “I know new next year we’re having a march. We’re moving forward.”

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