With over 44.8 million immigrants in the U.S., immigration policy is top of mind for policymakers. President Biden's administration has made it clear that they hope to kickstart immigration reform in the United States and improve conditions for immigrants living and working in America. A key point in these reforms is the DREAM Act of 2021. So, what is it, and why is it important?
The DREAM Act: History and Current Proposals
The DREAM Act of 2021 isn't the first version or even the tenth. In total, at least 11 versions of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act have moved through Congress since 2001. Each version of the bill provides a pathway for legal status for undocumented people who come to the U.S. as children.
Currently, there are two versions of the DREAM Act in Congress. Both would provide a pathway to citizenship for DREAMERs and those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Still, each version has different stipulations concerning who is eligible and what exceptions may apply.
- Age of arrival must be 17 or younger
- Immigrant must be physically present for the past four years
- Permanent conditional residence will be granted for eight years
This version of the DREAM Act also disqualifies those with an aggravated felony, drug offense, prison sentence of one or more years, and three or more criminal offenses. The only exception is a crime related to the lack of immigration status.
An estimated 2 million DREAMERs could qualify for conditional permanent resident status (CPR) under S.264. At least 1 million of these immigrants could attend school and become eligible for CPR and eventually citizenship.
- Age of arrival must be 18 years or younger
- Immigrant must be physically present since January 1, 2021
- Permanent conditional residence will be granted for ten years
Anyone guilty of a felony, three or more misdemeanors, or domestic violence is disqualified from the DREAM Act.
Exemptions under version H.R.6 include the following:
- Crime related to lack of immigration status
- Minor traffic violations
- Some marijuana-related crimes
- Nonviolent civil disobedience
- Domestic violence victims
In addition to these specifications, H.R.6 also proposes a secondary review process where the Department of Homeland Security would have the power to deny applications from those who participated in gang activity and/or those deemed to be an active threat to public safety.
Additionally, H.R.6 repeals a 1996 law that penalizes states that grant tuition to undocumented students and/or allows them to participate in federal financial aid. Under this version, those deported under the Trump administration would also be allowed to apply for relief from outside the U.S. as long as they meet eligibility requirements.
An estimated 3 million DREAMERs currently meet the entry and educational requirements for CPS under H.R.6, with at least 1.1 million potentially meeting the prerequisites by attending school over the next few years.
Some critics express concerns about the criminal restrictions and secondary review process included in H.R.6. They question whether the bill would deny otherwise eligible immigrants from relief and perpetuate the racial bias within the criminal justice system.
The final decision regarding the DREAM Act of 2021 is up to the government, but it is crucial to understand what rights and privileges you may or may not have under this legislation. So, why does all of this information matter?
What Does the DREAM Act Do?
Current, former, and future undocumented high school graduates and recipients would have a pathway to citizenship under the DREAM Act. Both versions of the bill outline a three-step process that describes conditional permanent residence, lawful permanent residence, and naturalization.
Step #1: Conditional Permanent Residence
Conditional Permanent Residence status includes work authorization for those who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Those who meet the following requirements also qualify for CPR under the new bills.
- Came to the U.S. as a child
- Has admission to a college, university, trade school, or certification program or graduated high school
- Has not participated in the persecution of another individual or group
- Has not been convicted of specific crimes
If the applicant qualifies for humanitarian protection, family unity, or is a person of interest, the Department of Homeland security may waive their criminal offenses and grant CPR status.
Step #2: Lawful Permanent Residence
Those who follow the guidelines for CPR status are eligible for lawful permanent residence (LPR), also known as a green card.
Immigrants are eligible based on the following requirements:
- The immigrant has completed a degree program from an institution of higher learning or has successfully completed two years of a bachelor's degree or higher during their time in the United States.
- The immigrant completed at least two years of military service with an honorable discharge.
- The immigrant can provide evidence of employment over three years with employment authorization except for those enrolled in a degree program or technical school.
If an applicant cannot meet these requirements due to a disability, they may apply for a hardship waiver that shows that removal would create hardship for their parent, guardian, spouse, or child who is a lawful permanent resident.
Step #3: Naturalization
After maintaining LPR status for five or more years, DREAMERs can apply to become U.S. citizens through the naturalization process.
The DREAM Act of 2021 could provide a much-needed pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the United States. The question is, what is the future of the DREAM Act?
At the moment, lawmakers have yet to finalize either version of the proposed bill. Still, immigrants need to understand what options may be available in the future and how the immigration system is beginning to change under the new presidential administration.
If you have questions about your immigration status, speak to an experienced legal professional at Lim Law, P.A., for trustworthy legal counsel.