According to some estimates, each year roughly 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school, many at the top of their class, but because of their immigration status, they are not allowed to join the U.S. military, work, or go to college. These are people that were brought to the country at a very young age but do not have the requisite immigration status to continue their education, work, or join the military. In recognition of this, many members of Congress have been working hard to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or the DREAM Act as it is more commonly known.
If enacted into law, the DREAM Act allows current, former, and future undocumented high-school graduates and GED recipients a pathway to U.S. citizenship through college or the military. More specifically, the DREAM Act allows an undocumented high-school graduate or GED recipient who has been physically present in the United States for at least five years and was younger than 16 when they first came to the country, to be eligible to have their immigration status changed to conditional lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. This status would be granted on a conditional basis and would remain valid for six years. During this time the conditional lawful permanent resident would be allowed to work, go to school, or join the military. After six years, the conditional status would be removed and the person would be granted lawful permanent resident status if they have completed two years in a program for a bachelor’s or higher degree, or if they have served in the uniformed services for at least two years and if discharged, was discharged honorably. DREAM Act students would not be eligible for federal education grants, but would be eligible for federal work study and student loans. Furthermore, the federal government would not prevent individual states from providing financial aid to DREAM Act students.
Advocates of the DREAM Act point out that it would not only lead to a more educated populace, aid military recruiting, and help keep families together, but by allowing DREAM Act beneficiaries to work, it would also greatly benefit the U.S. economy.
The DREAM Act was originally introduced in the United States Senate in 2001 and has been voted on multiple times since then. Thanks to widespread support from a number of different national associations, it passed the House of Representatives in 2010, and just failed to pass in the Senate. However, in 2013 the Senate did pass the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, and this bill would accomplish many of the same goals that the DREAM Act seeks to accomplish. Furthermore, many states have enacted their own versions of the DREAM Act. Although states cannot legalize the status of undocumented immigrants, they can allow undocumented students to attend their universities and qualify for in-state tuition. For example, in 2012 Maryland voters approved a referendum that allows qualified undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at state colleges.