Editorial: A nod to compromise, scholarships for undocumented

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Altgeld Hall, on the University of Illinois campus, in Urbana. | AP photo/The News-Gazette, John Dixon

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If you make the grade in an Illinois high school — and we’re talking about high marks in the classroom — you should be allowed to compete for scholarships at state universities. Typically, that is the case for state residents.

Undocumented immigrants, however, are left out no matter how successful they are in school and despite establishing Illinois residency to qualify for in-state tuition.

A bill in the Illinois House, which already passed in the Senate, offers a partial remedy for that problem and sets a good example for compromise in the Legislature, the kind we ought to see more of in Springfield and Washington. The House should pass it.

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The Student ACCESS Bill would allow undocumented students to be candidates for scholarships and grants administered by four-year public universities, with one significant exception. Unauthorized immigrants would not be considered for Monetary Award Program grants. MAP grants usually cover a portion of tuition and fees for Illinois’ neediest students and do not have to be repaid.

The bill’s chief sponsors, Iris Martinez in the Senate and Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez in the House, hammered out the exclusion of MAP grants as a major concession to legislators on the fence about the bill.

We get the objection to the inclusion of MAP grants. Lawmakers are way behind schedule to fund the program in Illinois’ catastrophic budget war. To some, this is the wrong time to expand the candidate pool.

We see merit-based scholarships, grants and other awards differently. Our state universities have a long history of rewarding Illinois’ top students. Give undocumented immigrants a chance to earn them, same as their peers. Beyond benefiting the students, it would lift the entire state if we produce more doctors, nurses and engineers.

These students will tell you they are American in every way except on paper. They were brought to this country as children and had no say in their travels. But currently, they have no access to state or federal aid. The latter includes Pell grants, work-study programs and government loans. Those would stay off limits.

A handful of states, such as Washington and conservative Texas, have passed legislation to include the undocumented for state-based college aid.

Illinois should follow suit. Invest in the state’s best and brightest. Include all residents who earn it.

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