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Immigration 101: What is the Dream Act?


Today, Sens. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced the Dream Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that would grant Dreamers legal status and put them on a path to citizenship. The Dream Act has been introduced at least ten times before, starting in 2001, with the last major push coming in 2010. Previous versions have passed either the House or Senate, but not both in the same Congressional session.  In addition, a version of The Dream Act was included in SB 744, the immigration bill that passed in the Senate in 2013.

This year, however, the introduction of the Dream Act has special significance due to the threats against DACA, the deferred action program that currently protects Dreamers. If Donald Trump caves into pressure and rescinds DACA, key protections will be taken away from some 800,000 Dreamers, kicking them out of the workforce and putting them in danger of deportation. This cannot be allowed to happen, which is why advocates are asking Trump and members of Congress to keep DACA in place until the Dream Act is passed.

What does the Dream Act do?

Originally, the legislation was called the DREAM Act and stood for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act. Over the years, various versions of the Dream Act have involved slightly differing details. In general, the Dream Act would cover around 1.5 million young immigrants and would:

  • Allow undocumented high school graduates or GED recipients to apply for conditional lawful permanent resident status if they have been present in the US for at least five years and were younger than 16 when they first entered the country.
  • Dreamers would use this status to legally work, go to school, or join the military.
  • The conditional status would be removed after six years, and the Dreamer would be allowed to apply for a green card and eventual US citizenship.
  • To qualify, Dreamers would have to pursue higher education, work lawfully for at least 3 years, or serve in the military. They would have to pass security and background checks and pay an application fee. They would have to demonstrate proficiency in the English language and have not committed a felony or other serious crimes.

Why should we pass the Dream Act?

There are a number of reasons why Congress should support the Dream Act. First, Dreamers have grown up in the United States and are American in all but name. Some of them didn’t even know they were undocumented until they first tried to obtain a driver’s license or apply to college. The United States is the only country they’ve ever called home; they work and pay taxes and contribute to their communities; without legislation like the Dream Act, there is no way for them to legalize their status. Legislation is needed to allow them to pursue the American Dream.

The Dream Act is especially needed in the Trump Era because Dreamers who have DACA have already given their information to the government and could end up as targets if DACA is rescinded. To allow young immigrants to apply for a government program, and then to use information that they willingly supplied against them, would be unimaginably cruel.

In addition, there are a number of financial reasons to pass the Dream Act:

  • Research on DACA found that after receiving DACA, 63% of recipients moved to a job with better pay, 6% started their own businesses, and 12% bought their first homes. The Dream Act would permanently codify these gains, and extend these opportunities to even more Dreamers, who could increase their standard of living and generate more in tax contributions.
  • The 2010 DREAM Act CBO score estimated that passage of the bill would reduce the deficit by $1.4 billion over ten years, thanks to Dreamers being able to get better jobs which would contribute more to the economy.
  • The American Immigration Council also points out that the Dream Act would likely decrease the high school dropout rate, by incentivizing Dreamers to stay in school, and help keep talented students in the US.

Support for Dreamers is popular. Polling from 2014 found that more than two-thirds of Americans supported Congress passing the Dream Act. More recently, polling found that Americans support DACA by a 58-28% margin, with just 19% “strongly” strongly supporting the repeal of DACA, which would lead to the deportation of Dreamers.

Of course, passing DREAM is just one part of the solution. Dreamers are fierce advocates for their families and will continue to fight to protect them as well.

More resources

American Immigration Council: The DREAM Act

Side by Side: Provisions of 2010 and 2017 Dream Acts and DACA