The Illinois General Assembly has approved a bill that will allow undocumented students to finance their university studies with private funds.

Known as the Illinois DREAM Act, SB2185 passed the lower house Monday with a narrow, bipartisan majority of 61-53 on a day seen as historic by defenders of the rights of undocumented immigrants.

The bill had earlier passed the state Senate by a vote of 45-11.

"This vote is a victory for our state and an important step forward in recognizing the contributions of immigrants," Lawrence Benito, deputy director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said in a statement.

The ICIRR promoted the bill as the state's response to the bogged-down DREAM Act presented at the federal level by Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin.

Benito stressed that the law will have no cost for taxpayers in Illinois, but rather creates a fund of private scholarships for students without access to state loans or other kinds of public financial aid.

The DREAM Act of Illinois will also make it easier for high school counselors and those in charge of university and community college admissions to be informed about the opportunities available to undocumented youths, and to know how to work with that segment of the population.

Unlike Durbin's congressional bill, however, the Illinois DREAM Act does not offer undocumented students a path toward legalization.

The measure was supported by the presidents of 15 universities, the community colleges of Illinois and dozens of community organizations.

Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, said that the state DREAM Act "strengthens Illinois' commitment to ensuring education for all" and said he will sign it in the coming days.

Also hailing the vote was Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said in a communique that the law will allow thousands of undocumented students in his city to get a good education and the chance to achieve the American Dream.

ICIRR pointed to the law being passed as a sign of "the growing political power of immigrant communities."

It added that in the last 20 years the Latino community in Illinois increased by 124 percent and the number of Asians doubled.

In Illinois there are 640,000 U.S.-born children under 18 whose parents are immigrants, and another 70,000 who will reach voting age in 2012.

"This vote is very important for Latinos, immigrants, and their supporters, who will remember this vote in 2012," the ICIRR said.