The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, popularly known as the DREAM Act, is a proposed federal statute that was first drafted in 2001.
The Act, which has never been passed by Congress, is designed to protect undocumented immigrants who first came to the United States as children.
Most of the people targeted for relief under the DREAM Act were not at all responsible for their initial entry into the US — in fact, the vast majority were in the custody of their parents at the time of their entry.
Many have never been to their native countries, and some of them do not even speak the native languages of the countries they emigrated from. Public opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Americans support the DREAM Act.
What the Dream Act is Designed to Do
The DREAM Act was originally an attempt to respond to the state of affairs as it existed in 2001 — childhood arrivals to the US could not work legally, and they were subject to deportation and a bar to re-entry to the United States at any time.
The DREAM Act, if passed by Congress, would legalize the presence of these people in the US, and it would even provide a path to eventual permanent residency and citizenship.
The DACA Band-Aid
Although the Dream Act was passed by the House of Representatives in 2010, it failed in the Senate. After it failed to pass the Senate once again in 2011, President Obama issued an executive order known as Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
DACA is essentially a watered-down version of the DREAM Act. Following are some of its strengths and weaknesses:
- It allows certain childhood arrivals who register for the program to avoid deportation for two years, and beneficiaries can continue to receive two-year extensions indefinitely.
- It allows successful registrants to obtain a work permit, renewable for successive two-year extensions.
- It does not include any path to permanent residency or citizenship.
- There is no guarantee that a DACA beneficiary will be granted an extension. In other words, no DACA beneficiary is ever more than two years away from potential deportation proceedings.
- It is an executive order rather than a statute, which means it can be revoked by the President at any time — not just President Obama, but any President who happens to be in office.
Trump Administration Immigration Policies Reignite Interest in the Dream Act
The Obama administration issued the DACA executive order, and President Trump attempted to revoke it. This attempt, however, was defeated by the US Supreme Court on procedural grounds.
Unfortunately for those who live under the umbrella of its protection, the Trump administration has announced its intention to try again to revoke it. Due to the nature of the Supreme Court’s procedural objections, it appears that the second attempt is likely to succeed.
DACA beneficiaries, however, have two reasons for hope:
- President Trump could lose the November 2020 elections, and the new President could issue a new executive order that is similar to DACA.
- Congress could pass the DREAM Act. This is a real possibility if a Democratic Congress comes to power in the November elections.
Features of the DREAM Act
Although the DREAM Act has been revised many times since 2001, and it may very well be revised again before it is finally passed, beneficiaries of the DREAM Act will probably have to meet the following requirements to be granted conditional status:
- You must register in order to obtain the benefit of the legislation — in other words, its benefits are not automatic.
- You must be inadmissible, deportable, or subject to Temporary Protected Status;
- You must have been younger than 18 when you first entered the US;
- You must have resided in the US for at least four years in a row after your initial arrival;
- You must be between 12 and 35 years of age at the time the DREAM Act is passed;
- You must meet certain educational requirements (a high school diploma, a GED, or admission to a college or university); and
- You must demonstrate good moral character and pass criminal background checks.
Once you achieve conditional status, you will have six more years to “graduate” to permanent residence status. To obtain permanent residence, you must either:
- Graduate from a two-year community college;
- Complete two years of study towards a four-year college or university degree; or
- Serve at least two years in the US military.
During this period, you will be eligible to apply for work-study programs and higher education grants.
Once you successfully complete the requirements, you will be granted a “green card”, and you will eventually be eligible to apply for US citizenship.