Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are going to bat once more for this country’s “Dreamers.” Generally, Dreamers are young people who’ve grown up in the U.S. but lack legal immigration status. President Trump promised to deport them while on the campaign. However, could he be open to negotiation? Read on to learn about past efforts to pass the DREAM Act and what’s in the current version.
The DREAM Act is bipartisan legislation first introduced in Congress in 2001. It stands for the “Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM).” The main purpose is create a way for young people brought to the U.S. as children to get legal immigration status. Without the DREAM Act, there is typically no way to get “right with the law” for people in this situation. The earlier version of the DREAM Act required you to earn your legal immigration status in three ways: get your high school diploma or equivalent, go to school, or serve in the military.
Since 2001, Congressmen have continued to introduce it as a bill without success. In 2010, it came within 5 votes of passing in the Senate after having passed the House. Opponents called it “illegal amnesty.” They said it would encourage future parents to break the law again. The failure in 2010 was a heartbreaking moment for many young people and their supporters.
The New DREAM Act
On July 20, 2017, Senators Durbin and Graham rolled out a new version of the Dream Act. Generally, here are the requirements:
- On the day the bill is made law, you have to have been in the U.S. for 4 years;
- You must have been under 17 when you first entered the U.S.;
- Cannot have certain criminal convictions, violated a student visa, participated in smuggling, polygamy, child abduction, or done something like illegally voted that makes you permanently ineligible for citizenship; and
- You must be in school or have earned a high school diploma.
Joining the military is not an option as it was in the original DREAM Act. One positive addition is the chance of getting a “waiver.'” The waiver will be given for humanitarian reasons, family unity, or if it is the public interest if you have one of the above disqualifications.
Also, if you already have Deferred Action for Certain Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the DREAM Act will also allow you to apply for your conditional permanent residence status (“green card.”) The conditional part means that your green card is valid for 8 years instead of the typical 10 years. During this time, you could lose your green card status if you commit certain crimes. You can read the entire bill section by section here.
To read a comprehensive summary of the types of criminal activity that could disqualify you, head on over to Professor Cesar Cuauhtémoc García Hernández’s blog here. Professor Garcia Hernández is an expert in criminal law and immigration. He’s done a great job of detailing the technical parts of the criminal disqualifications.
What’s Available to DREAMERS now?
Even if the DREAM Act does not pass, do not forget about Deferred Action for Certain Childhood Arrivals (DACA). President Obama created the DACA program in 2012. It grants protection from deportation to people under age 31 who came to the U.S. under age 16 and meet other criteria. If approved, you’re allowed to legally work and receive a Social Security number. In some cases, you can also travel overseas with permission. In Missouri, you can get a driver’s license if you have DACA.
Our offices are still filing new DACA applications. If you came to the U.S. before 2007 and were under the age of 16, consider scheduling a consultation to see if you qualify for DACA. Under some situations, we are advising people to apply, even at this late stage.
However, DACA is under attack. Just recently on June 29, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and ten other AG’s threatened to sue President Trump if he does not end the DACA program by September 5. Over 800,000 people have been approved for DACA. These Attorneys general want to “phase out” the program. It seems they have not considered how eliminating DACA would cost $433.4 billion in GDP loss over a decade. Or that it would cut Social Security and Medicare tax contributions by $24.6 billion over the same time period. Luckily, 20 Attorneys general from 19 states and DC sent a letter to President Trump urging him to keep DACA. Their letter states, “We urge you to affirm America’s values and tradition as a nation of immigrants and make clear that you will not only continue DACA, but that you will defend it.”
We hope Congress gives a piece of bi-partisan legislation like the DREAM Act gets a fair shot. It would certainly change the lives of many people who consider the U.S. their home. You can urge Congress to pass this bill by going here. We will keep our readers updated on the DREAM Act as it develops.