February 20th through the 25th is Take Action for the DREAM Act Week. During this week the sponsors of the DREAM Act ask people across the nation to write their senators and representatives about DREAM Act 2011. This article describes this proposed legislation.
The Dream began in 2001. During the Bush years, the act three times failed to make it out of committee. In 2007 the Democratic dominated Senate got only 52 of the 60 votes needed to defeat a Republican filibuster. In 2010, the act passed the House. In the Senate it was defeated. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) has reintroduced the DREAM Act 2011.
The DREAM Act does not offer special benefits to undocumented students. It offers them no advantage over U.S. citizen students. It authorizes fees to cover administration costs. It grants no scholarships. It merely opens a one-time door of opportunity.
The Act offers special relief for some children of undocumented immigrants. It offers a way for them to become legal U.S. residents. It protects this group from deportation and grants them work permits. It removes threats against those states that offer them in-state tuition.
To qualify, these children must have been illegally brought into the U.S. under the age of 15. They must be of good moral character, and have committed none of a long list of criminal offenses. They must successfully complete two years of college or military service.
The DREAM Act is a one-time concession. The way the House and Senate bills now read, it applies only to those who have been in the U.S. five years at the time Congress passes the Act. Children innocently brought into the United States less than five years ago and all children brought here from now on will continue under existing severe sanctions.
The Senate and House versions of the bill are quite similar. The Senate version requires applicants to be under 35 on the date of enactment. The House bill age is 32, but it includes more discretion for humanitarian purposes. The White House endorses the DREAM Act. Both Romney and Gingrich oppose the two years of college option but support the military service option. The House version excludes (probably mistakenly) immigrants legally in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status. The Senate version allows DREAM students, after becoming legal permanent residents, to get Pell grants and workstudy; the House version disallows grants for another 6 years.
Expect the final bill to be somewhat different when it comes up for a vote.
You may have heard that states are passing their own DREAM Acts. These statutes cannot offer immigration benefits. They offer only in-state tuition to undocumented students who reside in their states.
If you have questions about the DREAM Act, or want to see a comparison of the Senate and House versions, send me an email.