America's Voice En Español »

America's Voice


Immigration 101: What is a Dreamer?


Updated December 8, 2017

What is a Dreamer? When it comes to immigration reform, a “Dreamer” (often also spelled “DREAMer”) refers to a young person who qualifies for the DREAM Act.


The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) is a piece of legislation first introduced to congress in 2001 that grants a pathway to citizenship to young people who were brought to the United States as children without documentation. These are young people who are American in every way except on paper. They have grown up in this country and consider themselves to be American, but lack the documents to fully engage in society

After Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act in 2010 despite 70% of Americans supporting the proposed legislation,  President Obama in 2012 announced a temporary program that allows Dreamers to come forward, pass a background check, and apply for work permits. The program is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA for short.

DACA allowed nearly a million young people to come out of the shadows, work legally, and live without fear of deportation. It helped to drive economic growth, keep families together, promote education and community integration, and strengthen civic ties throughout the country. However, Dreamers were still not provided a pathway to citizenship under the program. And, since it was created through an executive order, presidents after Obama could rescind it at any time.

Trump and the end of DACA

On September 5, 2017, Donald Trump via Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended DACA. This happened despite polls finding that voters opposed the repeal of DACA by a 2:1, 58%-28% margin.

DACA is being phased out gradually. Every Dreamer whose DACA would have expired between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018 was allowed to apply for one more renewal — but only if their paperwork was received before October 5, 2017.

Every Dreamer whose DACA expires on or after March 6, 2018 will only continue to have DACA status and a work permit until their next DACA expiration date.

Because DACA only lasts two years, this means that all DACA recipients will eventually lose status and potentially face deportation by early 2020.

The status of Dreamers

As of December 2017, some 11,000 Dreamers have already lost DACA status. It is estimated that some 1,000 Dreamers will continue to lose status every single day.

Around 22,000 Dreamers who were eligible to apply for a DACA renewal were unable to do so between September 5 and October 5, 2017, either because of finances, because they were unaware of the deadline, or for some other reason.

4,000 Dreamers mailed in DACA renewals that were rejected because they were marked “late”. Almost a quarter of them were late due to USPS misshaps, or because they made it into USCIS’ mailbox on time but were not picked up until the day after they were due. One Dreamer was rejected because a clerk misread the date on her check (that she used to pay for the DACA renewal application) as “2012” rather than “2017” and sent the application back, with no time for the recipient to correct the clerk’s error. After an outcry, USCIS announced they would reconsider the applications improperly marked late.

In November, Border Patrol agents picked up Felipe, a Dreamer with active DACA status, whom they accused of human smuggling because he was riding in a car with undocumented relatives. Felipe was detained, stripped of his DACA, and briefly faced deportation proceedings before being allowed to go home. As of this writing, even Dreamers who still have active and current DACA are at risk of being detained.


Legislation and the future of Dreamers

In November and December 2017, and continuing as of this writing, Dreamers and advocates across the country have loudly, repeatedly, and insistently demanded that Congress pass a clean Dream Act to permanently protect Dreamers and put them on a pathway to citizenship.

On December 6, 2017, advocates gathered in Washington, DC for a massive rally — accompanied by an act of civil disobedience where 200 movement leaders were arrested on the Capitol steps. This event was echoed in Congressional districts across the country.

Legislatively, advocates are asking Congress to pass the Dream Act in conjunction with the omnibus spending bill, which must be passed before the end of the year in order for the government to keep functioning. This is thought to be the Dream Act’s best chance of passing, considering the difficulty of passing a standalone Dream Act through a Republican Congress.

The Dream Act — or similar piece of legislation — however must not be laden down with “poison pills“, or measures that demand way too much immigration enforcement in a trade to protect Dreamers.

America asked young undocumented people to trust their government, step forward and apply for DACA in order to be able to work legally, feel safe, and contribute the country they call home. Now, Congress needs to pass the Dream Act and recognize at long last that Dreamers are Americans and always have been. The alternative is to begin deporting young people who call our country home.


What is a Dreamer? More Resources