Illinois moves to aid illegal immigrants

A sign that reads "DREAM Act now: Undocumented and Unafraid" by the Chicago-based organization, Immigrant Youth Justice League.

Kai Ryssdal: President Obama went to El Paso, Texas, today. He was talking immigration. The White House is trying to pressure Congress into taking up immigration reform once again. House Republican leaders are lukewarm to that idea, so states have begun taking things into their own hands. There's the controversial law in Arizona that's tied up in the courts. Utah's version of that law goes into effect today.

Lawmakers in Illinois, meanwhile, are considering a bill that may actually attract undocumented immigrants. Marketplace's Jeff Tyler reports.


Jeff Tyler: Illinois has its own version of the DREAM Act. State Senator John Cullerton sponsored the bill.

John Cullerton: This is a bill that would make college education easier for immigrant children by allowing them to participate in our two college savings programs.

What would it cost the state?

Cullerton: That's the beauty. It costs nothing of the state. There's no state tax dollars involved. And that's why we've got bipartisan support.

A commission would solicit private donations to help kids pay for college. Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel and other state politicians have promised to raise funds for the program.

That's important, says Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Joshua Hoyt: The cost of education is very high and undocumented students cannot access Pell grants or loans because those are taxpayer money.

Illinois is also changing the way state law enforcement interacts with the federal government on immigration issues. The governor announced last week that the state would no longer participate in the federal Secure Communities program. It was supposed to target immigrants who are hard-core felons. Hoyt says the federal program has spun out of control.

Hoyt: Rather than focusing on dangerous criminals, they're deporting groundskeepers and nannies.

Some law enforcement officials don't like the Secure Communities program either.

Mark Curran is sheriff of Lake County, Ill. His resources are less than limited.

Mark Curran: We don't have the money to build a new jail at this point.

Already, he's got too many prisoners and not enough beds. So Curran resents it when federal immigration agents use one of his jail cells to house an undocumented immigrant.

Curran: It hurts us in terms of keeping serious people behind bars if ICE has a hold on somebody because they have a minor traffic offense.

Lawmakers in California and other states are also rethinking their participation in the Secure Communities program. As for the Illinois DREAM Act, the bill is expected to pass in the House. After that, it moves to the governor, who has pledged to sign the bill into law.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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