By Catalina Correa Párraga
On March 18, 2021, the United States House of Representatives passed the Dream and Promise Act in a bipartisan vote, bringing millions of immigrants one step closer to a path to U.S. citizenship.
The Dream and Promise Act of 2021 would provide more than 4.4 million Dreamers, individuals eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) holders protection from deportation and the opportunity to receive legal permanent status to continue to work, go to school, and build their lives in the United States. The 2021 bill would specifically grant Dreamers who meet certain requirements with legal permanent residence (“green card”) for 5 years. After 5 years, they would be eligible to apply for citizenship. It will also cancel the removal of undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for four years before its enactment, were younger than 18 years old when they arrived, and have no criminal record. Similar processes would also be granted to TPS and DED recipients TPS and DED holders would be granted permanent status and their removal proceedings would be canceled if they have been in the United States for 3 years before the act’s enactment and had TPS by September 2017 or DED status as of January 2021. The Dream and Promise Act also establishes numerous provisions, such as ensuring a person who appears eligible for cancellation of removal and conditional permanent residence isn’t removed, ensuring the confidentiality of information of applicants, and permitting individuals with a pending application an employment authorization document and to apply for advance parole, to shield Dreamers and immigrants with TPS and DED status with relief during their application process.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DREAM AND PROMISE ACT
The Dream and Promise Act was first introduced to the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress in 2019 by Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40). It passed in the House on June 4, 2019, with a 237 to 187 vote. The 2019 version of the act similarly provided Dreamers, TPS holders, and individuals with DED with protection from deportation and an opportunity to obtain permanent legal status in the United States under specific requirements. Despite its support among members of both the Democratic and Republican parties, the bill would eventually go on to die in committee, never coming for a vote on the Senate floor.
The act was reintroduced again on March 3, 2021, by Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, and was joined by Representatives Nydia Velazquez (NY-07), and Yvette Clarke (NY-09). It passed in the House on March 18, 2021, by a 228-197 vote on the same day the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021 was passed. The bill already has bipartisan support from both Democratic and Republican senators.
WHAT’S IN THE BILL?
The passage of this legislation would enact several provisions that promote the safety and well-being of its beneficiaries and would create a simplified process for some of those seeking legal status and U.S. citizenship. The bill is organized into three main sections: the first outlines the protections granted to Dreamers, the second on the protections for TPS and DED recipients, and the third on additional general provisions.
Section One: “Title I: Protecting America’s Dreamers” The bill states that Dreamers will be granted conditional permanent resident status for ten years and cancel removal proceedings if they:
- Have been continuously physically present in the U.S. on or before January 1, 2021;
- Were 18 years old or younger on the initial date of entry into the U.S.;
- Do not have a criminal record;
- Graduate from high school, obtain a GED or industry-recognized credential or are in a program assisting students in obtaining a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent exam;
- Pass security and law enforcement background check, pay a reasonable application fee, and register for the Selective Service if required;
- Are children of certain temporary workers who arrived in the U.S. at the age of 18 or younger and were continuously present in the U.S. since January 1, 2021.
In order for Dreamers to gain full lawful permanent residence, they must:
- Acquire a degree from a U.S. institution of higher education; or complete at least two years in good standing in a bachelor’s or higher degree program or in an area career and technical education program at a post-secondary level in the U.S.; or
- Complete at least two years of military service, and if discharged, received an honorable discharge; or
- Be employed for periods of time totaling at least three years and at least 75 percent of the time that the person has had employment authorization.
Along with these opportunities to attain protected status, certain Dreamers will also be granted the following benefits:
- The repeal of Section 505 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which penalizes states that grant in-state tuition to undocumented students on the basis of residency;
- Permission to access federal financial aid;
- Opportunity to apply for relief abroad for those that were deported by the Trump Administration.
Section Two: “Title II: A Path Forward for TPS and DED Recipients” The bill reads that individuals with TPS or DED status would be granted legal permanent residence and have their removal proceedings canceled if they:
- Have been in the United States for a period of three years before the act’s enactment; and
- Were eligible for or had TPS on September 17, 2017, or had DED status as of January 20, 2021.
These provisions are accompanied by amendments to current TPS law that would require the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide an explanation of a decision to terminate a TPS designation and as well as a report three days after publishing such a notice.
Section Three: “Title III: Additional General Provisions”, would enact certain protections for immigrants in the process of applying for relief:
- Ensuring the secretary of DHS or the U.S. Attorney General may not remove a person who appears eligible for cancellation of removal and conditional permanent residence.
- Requiring the Secretary of DHS to provide a reasonable opportunity to apply for relief to a person subject to removal who requests such an opportunity or who appears eligible.
- Providing a fee exemption for individuals under the age of 18, who received an income that is less than 150% of the poverty line, are in foster care or lacking familiar support, or who cannot care for themselves due to a serious, chronic disability.
- Permitting individuals with a pending application an employment authorization document and to apply for advance parole.
- Permitting the secretary of DHS to waive select inadmissibility bars and crimes of domestic violence for humanitarian purposes, family unity, or if the waiver is otherwise in the public interest.
- Strengthening administrative and judicial review procedures for individuals denied benefits under this act.
- Ensuring the confidentiality of information of applicants and prohibiting DHS from using the information provided during the application for immigration enforcement.
- Establishing a new grant program to assist nonprofits in screening individuals for eligibility and assisting in their application for relief under this bill.
UPDATES TO THE BILL
Since its introduction to Congress, legislators have made several changes to the Dream and Promise Act that have made it more inclusive of undocumented immigrants seeking relief.
Despite some of these updates, many advocates argue that the bill does not equally protect all of the migrants that it is meant to protect. The Center for Law and Social Policy argues that the extensive criminal bars listed in section one fail to acknowledge the role that racial profiling and discrimination play in the American justice system, and therefore, the inequities that may prevent some migrants from being granted protected status. The current bill also fails to provide protection from deportation or a path to citizenship for undocumented children who are too young to meet the requirements listed above as well as the families of Dreamers who also face being separated from their loved ones.
THE FUTURE OF THE DREAM AND PROMISE ACT
Thanks to our elected representatives, the Dream and Promise Act of 2021 is on its way to becoming a reality. However, in order to ensure that the bill is signed into law, everyone must call their Senators and ask them for their full support. Dreamers, TPS holders, and DED recipients are our neighbors, friends, and community members. Congress must provide a pathway to citizenship for these 4.4 million undocumented immigrants and longtime residents who call the U.S. home so they can continue to contribute to our country.
The passage of the Dream and Promise Act is a critical first step to updating the American immigration system to one that is fair and just.
Call your Senators at (202) 224-3121 and urge them to vote in favor of the Dream and Promise Act to recognize the millions of undocumented immigrants for the Americans that they already are.
MORE WAYS TO GET INVOLVED
- Help us pass the Dream and Promise Act by joining the #WeAreHome campaign
- America’s Voice on House Approval of the Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act
- Passing Dream & Promise Act Creates Protections for Immigrants in the U.S. & Helps Lessen Demand for Asylum Protections By Creating Stability Abroad
- The Tens of Thousand of Essential Worker TPS holders Increase Urgency To Pass the American Dream & Promise Act
- Advocates Respond to the Reintroduction of the Dream & Promise Act and Farm Workforce Modernization Act