SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Senate on Wednesday passed and sent to Gov. J.B. Pritzker a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to receive state-funded student financial aid to attend college.
House Bill 2691, known as the Retaining Illinois Students and Equity, or RISE Act, passed the House on April 11. It also would extend eligibility for the state’s Monetary Award Program, or MAP grants, to certain transgender individuals who are disqualified from state or federal financial aid because they have not registered for the draft.
“Just because someone is undocumented doesn’t mean they aren’t members of our society. It doesn’t mean that they don’t contribute to our society,” Sen. Omar Aquino, a Chicago Democrat and lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said during floor debate. “Undocumented families in Illinois are Illinois families. They are Illinois residents that pay taxes – taxes that actually, because they are undocumented, they are not able to receive the return on those taxes back to them.”
But the idea provoked strong opposition from Republicans, who argued that expanding the pool of students who are eligible for MAP grants by allowing noncitizens to receive them would crowd out legal citizens from getting them.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the math is simple,” Sen. Jim Oberweis, a Sugar Grove Republican, said. “Each and every one of us have students in our districts who are relying on MAP funding. If we’re going to take some of that funding away from our citizens and give it to noncitizens, that means we’re depriving some of our citizens, some of our students, from being able to have that funding to help with their education. This is just absolutely, fundamentally wrong.”
Aquino conceded Illinois does not fully fund the MAP grant program, saying grants are awarded on a first-come-first-served basis, and there are often more applicants than there are grant funds to go around. But he said that issue is separate from the issue of eligibility.
“I’d love to leave here at the end of this session saying we fully funded MAP. I would love that,” Aquino said. “But that’s not this bill. This bill just opens up opportunities to students to have the option to be a college student and hopefully get a degree.”
Other Democrats argued that extending eligibility for the grants would benefit the state at-large.
“As you know, these students are already enrolled in college,” said Sen. Iris Martinez, also of Chicago. “They are looking at professional careers. These are the future doctors, our future nurses, our future professors. These are individuals who are right now getting a profession and will someday be serving us. Let it be in the health field, let it be in education.”
The bill also eliminates one of the rules for students to continue their eligibility for the grants beyond their sophomore year.
Under current rules, students who have received MAP funding for 75 credit hours must qualify as a junior in their degree program to be eligible to continue. Critics of that rule, however, have said it works against students from disadvantaged backgrounds and low-income communities, particularly students of color, who often need to take remedial courses early in their college careers before they can handle regular college-level classes.
The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 35-to-15, and will head to Gov. Pritzker.