Op-Ed: Give Undocumented Youth the Chance to Succeed


November 16, 2016 | Chicago, IL

Student ACCESS Bill

Erie House TEAM alumna Andrea Aguilera speaks during a November 11 rally in support of SB2196. FILE PHOTO

Last Friday I attended a rally in downtown Chicago that brought me hope at the end of a week heavy with despair. Organized and executed entirely by students—2 of whom are graduates of the TEAM mentoring program at Erie Neighborhood House—and attended by numerous state lawmakers and youth-serving nonprofit organizations, the event was designed to rally support for SB2196.

Referred to as the Student ACCESS Bill, SB2196 will allow undocumented youth in the state of Illinois who meet certain requirements to apply for financial aid to 4-year state universities on a competitive basis.

SB2196 was approved by the senate in April of this year and is now up for a house vote in Springfield as early as this week. Sponsored by State Sen. Iris Martinez and State Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, the bill is touted as a revenue neutral measure that will open new doors of opportunity for youth who are undocumented without placing additional financial burden on the state.

In other words, the bill will give greater access to higher education and make the dream of attending college a reality for some of our state’s brightest immigrant students who would not have otherwise been able to afford it. As witnessed at Erie House, these young people are able to reach their potential when given the opportunity. They become wage earners, taxpayers and leaders in the community.

The Student ACCESS Bill is also part of a broader effort known as the Illinois is Safe Platform, which calls on Gov. Rauner to actively pursue protections for immigrants throughout the state.

I want to encourage you to contact the governor and your state representative and tell them you support SB2196 and the Illinois is Safe Platform.

Throughout last Friday’s rally, I listened to student after student share their hopes and dreams with the audience. They inspired us with their resilience and determination to succeed in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

One of those students, Andrea Aguilera, is a graduate of our TEAM mentoring program and a participant in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program established in 2012. Today she is a college sophomore who has earned her way on to the dean’s list at Dominican University and is determined to become the first in her family to graduate from college. And even in spite of financial hardship and academic pressures, she still finds time to come back to Erie House on a weekly basis to volunteer as a mentor in the program that meant so much to her.

We regularly work with undocumented youth like Andrea at Erie House, helping them excel in school, explore college options and apply for private scholarships in order to make earning a degree more affordable. The Student ACCESS Bill—and, more broadly, the Illinois is Safe Platform—would serve to further our efforts to build a more just, inclusive society that values the contributions of immigrants.

Please join me in calling on Springfield to pass SB2196 and support the Illinois is Safe Platform in order to give undocumented youth in our state a better chance to succeed.

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Kirstin Chernawsky is the executive director at Erie Neighborhood House, a historic settlement house agency serving low-income, primarily Latino families in Chicago.

Erie Neighborhood House (ENH) is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization that reaches 18,000 people annually, empowering them to build better lives while strengthening their communities. ENH offers Chicago’s Latinx and diverse low-income residents a range of community-based education programs. With forward-thinking leadership, ENH is committed to continuing its legacy of cost effective, award-winning programming. For more information, please visit

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