The DREAM Act stands for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act. The Act aims to protect foreign nationals, who were brought to the United States as children, and who are vulnerable to deportation. If you were brought to the United States, as a minor, the only path to lawful permanent residency is typically through a spouse. The DREAM Act would provide an alternative path to those who were brought here as children and who call this country home.
History of the Dream Act.
The first iteration of the DREAM Act was proposed in 2001. As a result, this group of youth and young adults is referred to as ‘Dreamers.’ Over the past 19 years, ten versions of the DREAM Act have been introduced in Congress-some more restrictive and some more generous than the original bill; however, none have passed both houses of Congress.
In 2017, a bipartisan DREAM Act was introduced by Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), although that bill did not pass the Senate.
The most recent version of the DREAM Act was introduced in May 2019 in the House of Representatives. This bill would provide a path to lawful permanent residency for Dreamers along with those on Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure. That bill passed the House on June 4, 2019.
Key Features of the Dream Act
The key feature of all the DREAM Acts is that they provided a pathway to lawful permanent residency, and ultimately citizenship for young adults who were brought to the U.S. as minors.
Who Qualifies for the DREAM Act?
Each Act provided different requirements that applicants must fulfill. This article reviews the requirements from the 2011 & the 2019 bills.
- 2011 Bill: Applicants must have entered the U.S. before their 15th birthday;
- 2019 Bill: Applicants must enter the U.S. before their 18th birthday;
- 2011 Bill: Must have entered the U.S. at least five years before the bill’s enactment;
- 2019 Bill: Must have entered the U.S. at least four years before the bill’s enactment;
Residency: Both laws mandated that applicants must have been continuously present during the requisite period, meaning any long gaps in residency would render an applicant ineligible for conditional residency;
- 2011 Bill: Must be 35 years old or younger on the date of enactment;
- 2019 Bill: No age limit.
Higher Education: Both bills permit applicants to fulfill this requirement in one of four ways:
- Be enrolled in high school or GED program;
- Graduate from a U.S. high school;
- Obtain a G.E. D;
- Be accepted to a college or technical school;
Good Moral Character: Both bills require a showing of good moral character from the time of entry through the present;
Conviction of Certain Crimes: Both bills require that applicants’ have not been convicted of certain crimes nor pose a security risk;
Conditional Permanent Residency
Under the DREAM Act, if an individual met the above criteria, they would be eligible to apply for ‘conditional permanent residency.’ Meaning that the applicant could be granted lawful permanent residency, but that after a designated period, they would have to apply to ‘remove the conditions’ to receive “full permanent residency.”
- 2011 Bill: Under the 2011 bill an individual would have to be a conditional resident for six years before they could apply to remove their conditions;
- 2019 Bill: Under the 2019 bill, the conditional residency term would be ten years.
Under both bills, conditional residents would be eligible for work authorization and have all the rights and responsibilities of “full” lawful permanent residents. The difference between conditional residency and ‘full’ residency’ is that after a designated period of time, a conditional resident’s case would be re-evaluated, to move forward in their immigration journey. Under the 2019 bill, DACA recipients could be fast-tracked to conditional residency status.
Lifting Conditions & Lawful Permanent Residency
After the requisite period, applicants would have to show one of the following to have their ‘conditions removed.’
- Higher Education: The Applicant has completed at least two years of schooling at an institution of higher education, or technical college;
- Military Service: Completed two years of military service;
- Employment (under the 2019 bill): The Applicant has been employed for at least 75% of the time they were authorized to work, over the past three years (except during times of education).
Both bills provided for waivers of these requirements.
Under both bills, applicants would be eligible to apply for naturalization after being a “full” lawful permanent resident for five years.
University systems and individual states have disparate policies when it comes to undocumented students and tuition. Some states extend in-state tuition to undocumented students who would otherwise qualify for admission. Whereas, some states allow undocumented students to apply for financial aid, and some states provide for private funding of education.
Eighteen states offer in-state tuition, as mandated by the state legislature, and seven state university systems offer in-state tuition to undocumented students.
Section 507 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 prescribes that for states to offer in-state tuition rates to undocumented individuals, the state must also offer the same rate to U.S. citizens and nationals, regardless of residency. The DREAM Act of 2011 sought to repeal section 507 of IIRAIRA, as it discourages states from offering in-state tuition to undocumented students.