What Is the DREAM Act?

C. Mitchell

The Development, Relief and Education for Minors Act, more commonly known as the DREAM Act, was a proposed U.S. law designed to legalize the status of children who entered the United States as a result of their parents’ illegal immigration. Not all children were covered, however. Only children who entered the country at a young age, then went on to successfully complete an American course of secondary education, would have qualified. The act was originally proposed in 2001, then re-introduced in 2009. It died in the Senate in late 2010.

In late 2010, the DREAM Act died while in the U.S. Senate.
In late 2010, the DREAM Act died while in the U.S. Senate.

To qualify for DREAM Act amnesty, a child must have entered the United States illegally while under the age of 15, and must have subsequently gone on to graduate from a U.S. high school or high school equivalency program. The DREAM Act also required applicants to be of sound moral character, which is generally understood to mean no criminal record, no misdemeanors or drug charges, and no school suspensions, among other things. If these conditions were met, the applicant would have been eligible for conditional permanent residency status.

A person with conditional permanent residency status is legal in the eyes of U.S. immigration law, but only for a set period of time, and only on certain conditions. The DREAM Act set the residency period at five years, and would have required grantees to complete at least two years of college or two years of U.S. military service within that time. If these requirements were met, the residency status could have been renewed for another five years. Only after a person had lived in the U.S. for a full ten years as a conditional permanent resident could he or she have applied for full-fledged legal resident status.

Part of the argument in support of the DREAM Act was the rising cost of college tuition. Many U.S. students fund their college education through federal grants and student loans, few of which are available to undocumented aliens. Most public universities also offer deep discounts for in-state residents. However, those residents must, in nearly all cases, be legally present in the state in order to qualify. Awarding high-achieving illegal immigrants a conditional residency status would have allowed them to apply for student loans, and would have made them eligible for some schools’ in-state tuition discounts.

The DREAM Act passed in the House of Representatives in 2010, but died in the Senate. Under U.S. law, an act cannot be enacted into law unless both the House and the Senate agree to its terms. This does not prevent individual states from acting independently, however.

Many state legislatures, including California and Texas, have already approved laws allowing undocumented illegal immigrants to claim in-state tuition. These and other states are also crafting state-specific DREAM Act legislation. The California DREAM Act, for instance, would adopt most of the terms and conditions of the federal iteration, just in a state-specific format. Similar legislation has been proposed in at least five other states.

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