The DREAM (Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act is a bipartisan legislation that has been introduced in various forms since 2001. Although the meaning has varied over time, its core concept has remained to allow people brought illegally into the United States as children a method to remain in the country.
Although never signed into law, many of its elements were included in President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. President Donald Trump rescinded the DACA policy, although the direct effects are being contested in court. As a result of the long history and presidential involvement, the exact definition of the DREAM Act has become clouded. It’s consistently enjoyed some level of bipartisan support, but never enough to become law.
Goal and Support For the DREAM Act
The DREAM Act seeks to provide lawful permanent immigrant status for residents who were brought into the country illegally as children. This includes a six-year conditional period before they become a legal permanent resident. Some variants include a “path to citizenship,” but that is not present in several versions of the bill.
Proponents argue that the current policy of deporting law-abiding people raised within the American culture to be injurious to the person and the nation. The counter arguments include that these people are still present in the country illegally and can pursue existing legal residency options.
Updates to the DREAM Act
The most recent version was proposed by senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin in that chamber and representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (and Lucille Roybal-Allard in 2017. As of this writing, that was the active form of the bill. It seems likely another version will be introduced when the next Congress is seated. The elements vary in some ways from previous versions, and any version signed into law may have different elements. This creates a group of people, called DREAMers, who would be effected by the law. This actually includes two subgroups- those currently in the country and those who have since left. Some estimates say there are 1 million people in the United States who would qualify for the program. A key part is it would grant lawful permanent resident status, not citizenship, to those involved. The first is an age cap- the person had to be aged 18 or younger upon entry.
They also need to be physically present in the United States continuously for the last four years.
The person would also need to be legally admissible otherwise. This means people convicted of most felonies, involved in terrorism, who are a security threat or other issues would be barred from the program. It also bars people convicted of a variety of state and federal offenses, some of which would be allowable in other programs. The fourth is a variant of the “good moral character” concept seen in earlier bills, saying the person “has not ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Beyond that, they need to have attained, or be involved in, high school or secondary school. Those engaged in military service are also considered for the program. This was particularly important in earlier versions of the bill, as the armed services were having trouble with enlistment and DREAMers were viewed as an effective source of recruits. That version of the bill was read twice and died in the Committee of the Judiciary. With President Trump’s dislike of the program, it’s unlikely to become law before 2020. Even under President Barack Obama, who supported the bill, no version was able to pass the 60 vote threshold in the Senate to override a filibuster.
Path to Citizenship
A popular possibility, not included in the most recent bill, is a path to citizenship. It’s drawn a great deal of heat, as opponents view it as rewarding illegal entry to the country. The most recent version does not directly include the possibility. However, it does not eliminate the possibility that a DREAMer would be able to later earn citizenship despite their illegal entry. The legislative struggle has flared up several times since its 2001 proposal. One of the most recent disputes was a three-day shutdown in February, started by Democrats in an attempt to pressure Republicans to develop a long-term solution. Ultimately, it was still unable to force the 60 votes required in the Senate. Even if it had passed, it was unlikely that President Trump would sign that version of the bill.
Some requirements have appeared in various bills, such as male applicants register for the Selective Service or have entered the country before the age of 15. These elements, or other parts, could be included in any bill that becomes law. The Trump Administration has made it clear they will only consider such an action if it includes other immigration reforms and actions, including the border wall. However, the Republican party is far from united in their opposition to the bill, as seen by the fact it’s been continuously introduced with bipartisan support. The support of Republican Senator Graham, who co-sponsored the bill, is particularly notable. Graham has become a major supporter of the president, despite losing to him during the presidential election.
State Variations of the DREAM Act
Although the DREAM act has not been enacted at the federal level, a number of states have passed their own variations on the bill. Being states, they cannot dictate federal immigration policies, but they can offer education and other benefits to those effected. The exact terms vary by state. For example, California’s bill provides scholarships and other benefits to those who apply.
The DREAM Act is likely to remain an active one, held up as a possible solution to immigration troubles in this country. It could resolve a situation for a certain subset of people, although that number is unclear. However, its limited applicability would do nothing for other forms of illegal immigration, such as the requirement for E-verify programs or elimination of the diversity lottery.
S.1615 – Dream Act of 2017 – Congress.gov
DREAM ACT 2017 Summary and Answers to Frequently Asked Questions – National Immigration Law Center
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