DREAM Act is an acronym that stands for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act. It’s a piece of bipartisan legislation that would create a path to citizenship for certain undocumented/illegal immigrants who entered the United States when they were kids. The people who would benefit from DREAM Act legislation are sometimes referred to as “DREAMers.”
Congress has been debating various iterations of the DREAM Act since 2001. The most recent version of the bill was proposed in the Senate in May 2011. It proposed to provide a conditional legal status to undocumented immigrants if they met the following criteria:
- they are under age 35
- they entered the United States prior to age 16
- they lived in the U.S. for at least five years
- they had graduated from high school or entered an institute of higher education
- they had not been convicted of certain state and federal crimes.
Those with this conditional legal status could then apply for a green card if they:
- passed a background check
- completed at least two years of college or military service
- paid taxes
After three years with a green card, they could then apply for U.S. citizenship
Why You Should Care
There are about 1-2 million young people living in the US who have grown up as Americans, but unlike everyone else, they have to worry everyday that they could be deported. They are in this situation not because of anything they did, but because their parents brought them to the US at a very young age. They are “illegal aliens,” but through no fault of their own. Their parents made the decision to migrate illegally, and as children, they were obligated to join their parents. It’s not fair to punish these young people for something their parents did.
Most of these young people speak English perfectly. Most have not visited their country of birth since their parents brought them to the US. Many are too young to even remember their country of birth. All of their friends are in the United States. They are American through and through. Yet because they have illegal status, they cannot do even the simplest things. They can’t get a drivers license when they turn in 16. They can’t legally work. In many states, they can’t get in-state tuition when they go to college. They can’t leave the country because they don’t have a passport. Their illegal status means they must live in hiding.
Can you imagine having to worry everyday that you might be plucked from your daily life and sent to a faraway place you don’t know, where you have no friends or contacts, and whose language you might not be able to speak or speak perfectly? How would you survive, get a job, get educated? And if you’re not deported, you continue living a life in the United States where your potential to succeed is constantly impeded by your lack of legal status. How would you support yourself, drive, or do anything that requires identification? And none of this is your fault.
2010 Congressional Vote
Although the most recent version of the DREAM Act never came up for a vote, a very similar version passed in the House of Representatives on December 8, 2010. It received fifty-five votes in the Senate, but did not pass because proponents needed sixty votes to avoid a Republican filibuster.
President Obama has said he will sign the DREAM Act into law if it gets through Congress.
2012 “Deferred Action” Program
Without any legislative relief for undocumented young people, President Obama announced on June 15, 2012 that his administration would give a two-year reprieve from the threat of deportation to young people meeting certain criteria (you can read about those criteria here). The Department of Homeland Security began receiving applications for this program on August 15, 2012.