What is the DREAM Act?

What is the DREAM Act?
Photo credit: Mahalie Stackpole
The DREAM Act is bipartisan immigration reform legislation that specifically targets the unfortunate situation that many young undocumented people endure. Young people who were brought to the United States by their parents unlawfully, have no way to obtain legal residency and are forced into a life that is severely marginalized by their lack of legal status. The DREAM Act addresses this tragedy by giving these individuals a path to legal status based on meeting certain conditions.

The latest version of the DREAM Act, also known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, was introduced on May 11, 2011, in the Senate (S. 952) by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and 32 fellow senators, and in the House of Representatives (H.R. 1842) by Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Lucille Roybal-Allard.

How the DREAM Act Helps
The DREAM Act has never garnered the necessary votes to pass into a law. If and when it does, the DREAM Act would enact two major changes in current law:

  • The DREAM Act would permit certain immigrant students who have grown up in the U.S. to apply for temporary legal status and to eventually obtain permanent legal status and become eligible for U.S. citizenship if they go to college or serve in the U.S. military; and
  • The DREAM Act would eliminate a federal provision that penalizes states that provide in-state tuition without regard to immigration status.

Change for DREAMers
While the fight for more humane and permanent immigration law continues, some incremental improvements have materialized for some undocumented youth.

In 2012, President Obama authored a memo called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, now often known simply as DACA. The executive action gave undocumented youth that meet specific requirements a temporary reprieve from deportation. Although it is limited in its protections and does not provide legal status, DACA does allow undocumented youth the ability to stay and work in the United States for a renewable two-year period.

Several states have enacted laws permitting anyone, including undocumented immigrants, who attended and graduated from high school in the state to pay the in-state rate at public colleges and universities.