DREAM Act

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act, is federal legislation that would, if passed, provide a path to legal permanent residency and eventually citizenship for certain categories of currently undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States at a young age. Immigrant youth who have actively campaigned for the act, or who would benefit from its passage, are often referred to as DREAMers.

The bill would confer benefits to those unauthorized residents who are between the ages of 12 and 30 at the time of bill enactment; arrived in the United States prior to age 16 and resided in the country for five consecutive years; and have graduated from an American high school, obtained a GED, or been admitted to an institution of higher education. They would not qualify if they had committed crimes, were a security risk, or were inadmissible or removable on certain other grounds. Those who meet all qualifications¬† would be granted “conditional” status; they could earn permanent legal status if within six years they graduate from a two-year community college, complete at least two years towards a four-year degree, or serve two years in the US military. The DREAM Act would also eliminate a federal provision that penalizes states that provide in-state tuition without regard to immigration status.

The DREAM Act was first introduced in Congress in 2001 by Democrat Rep. Luis Gutiérrez and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. After years of advocacy by undocumented youth, commonly labeled Dreamers, and allies, versions of the bill passed the House of Representatives in 2007 and 2010 but never managed to gain the 60 votes needed in the Senate to defeat Republican filibusters. In 2012, the Obama Administration through executive action, created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that provided a population similar to the one covered by the DREAM Act protection from deportation and access to work permits and other legal benefits for two-year renewable periods. Unlike the DREAM Act, DACA does not provide a path to permanent residency or citizenship, and has been subject to multiple legal challenges.

The Biden Administration has strongly encouraged passage of the DREAM Act while exploring multiple options for expanding legal protections to undocumented residents who meet various criteria.