Federal and State DREAM Acts

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 What Are Undocumented Immigrants?

An undocumented immigrant is an individual who has traveled to the United States but does not have the proper documents, which may include:

  • A travel visa;
  • A passport;
  • A green card; or
  • Other important papers.

This action is referred to as illegal immigration. It often poses a major problem for a foreign alien.

Violations of documentation requirements may lead to various consequences for an illegal immigrant. An individual may become an illegal immigrant by entering the United States illegally or staying in the United States after their visa has expired, known as overstaying a visa.

What Are the Consequences of Illegal Immigration?

An undocumented immigrant may face various consequences for entering into or staying in the United States without the proper documents, which may include:

  • Immediate removal from the country, or deportation;
  • Not being allowed to re-enter the United States until a certain amount of time has passed, such as 5 years after the removal; and
  • In some cases, criminal consequences may result, especially if the individual is also being implicated in criminal charges.

In addition to these issues, harboring a known undocumented immigrant or hiring an illegal immigrant may also lead to legal consequences. This is a major concern for an employer who may face several consequences if they knowingly employ an undocumented immigrant, such as:

  • Fines;
  • Losing their business license; and
  • Other consequences.

Are All Undocumented Immigrants Subject to Immediate Removal?

Not all undocumented immigrants are necessarily subject to immediate removal. Although the majority of undocumented immigrants will be subject to immediate removal upon discovery of their status, certain illegal immigrants may be granted amnesty.

Amnesty is similar to a pardon and is typically granted to individuals who originally entered the United States for the purposes of political asylum purposes. The eligibility for asylum is very limited and typically requires that the individual has been staying in the United States on a continuous basis for many years.

What is the DREAM Act?

The DREAM Act, or the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minos Act is an act which proposes to grant conditional legal permanent resident status to certain undocumented minor immigrants who meet specific qualifications. In addition to other provisions, the DREAM Act would permit undocumented citizens to:

  • Received education;
  • Obtain educational financial aid;
  • Be employed; and
  • Join the military.

The DREAM Act has not been approved at this time as a federal law. The Act was originally proposed in 2001.

It was rejected in 2010 and reintroduced to the legislature in 2011. In the past 20 years, there have been at least 11 versions of the DREAM Act introduced in Congress.

Although the various versions of this bill have all contained key differences, they would have provided a way for undocumented individuals who came to the United States as children to obtain legal status. There are currently two versions of the DREAM Act that are before Congress, the Dream Act of 2021 (S. 264) as well as a version of the Dream Act which is incorporated into a larger bill called the Dream and Promise Act of 2021 (H.R. 6).

The DREAM Act of 2021 was introduced by Senators Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham on February 4, 2021. These two senators also introduced the same legislation in the two previous sessions of Congress.

The Dream and Promise Act of 2021 was introduced in the House by Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard on March 3, 2021. Both of these bills would provide a path to citizenship.

The Dream and Promise Act of 2021 would also provide individuals who are beneficiaries of two humanitarian programs, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), with a path to citizenship. Both versions of this act would provide former, current, and future undocumented graduates of high school and GED recipients with a pathway to United States citizenship through:

  • Work;
  • College; or
  • The armed forces.

The Migration Policy Institute provides an estimate that around 2 million Dreamers would qualify for conditional permanent residence under the DREAM Act of 2021. 1.7 million of these individuals would likely satisfy the qualifications necessary to remove the conditions on this status.

Approximately 1 million more individuals may become eligible for conditional permanent resident status if they were to enroll in school. Under the Dream and Promise Act of 2021, 3 million Dreamers would meet the age at entry and educational requirements for conditional permanent resident status.

2.5 million of those individuals would likely obtain the qualifications necessary for the removal of the conditions on this status. 1.1 million more individuals could become eligible for conditional permanent resident status if they were to enroll in school.

This bill is currently still under debate. Opponents believe that the bill may support illegal immigration into the United States.

Although the federal government has had issues agreeing on the provisions of the DREAM Act, there are several states which have taken their own initiative to draft state DREAM Acts. States that have their own DREAM Acts include:

  • California;
  • Illinois;
  • Kansas;
  • Massachusetts;
  • Maryland;
  • Minnesota;
  • Nebraska;
  • New Jersey;
  • New Mexico;
  • New York;
  • Oregon;
  • Texas;
  • Utah;
  • Washington; and
  • Wisconsin.

What is the California DREAM Act?

As previously noted, the federal DREAM Act is still under debate. However, many states, such as California, have already passed their own versions of the DREAM Act.

The California DREAM Act was signed into law in October 2011. The California DREAM Act is similar to the federal version but with more focus on educational provisions.

For example, the California DREAM Act permits an undocumented resident to apply for student financial aid. The main purpose of this provision is to provide Cal Grants to students who qualify.

The eligibility requirements to qualify under the California DREAM Act include:

  • The student came to the United States without a proper visa while under the age of 16;
  • The student has attended school on a regular basis;
  • The student graduated from high school;
  • The student has demonstrated both merit and need; and
  • The student meets the requirements for GPA and in-state tuition applications.

Therefore, the California DREAM Act allows an individual to obtain financial aid for education which they otherwise would not be eligible for.

What are Some Arguments Regarding the California DREAM Act?

Both the federal DREAM Act and the state DREAM Acts, including the California DREAM Act, have received a large amount of criticism. The opponents of the California DREAM Act, in particular, argue that the law will create a financial burden on the State of California, as it grants tuition breaks for individuals who were not previously eligible.

There is also a lot of debate regarding whether the California DREAM Act will increase the amount of illegal immigration to California. Individuals who oppose the Act believe it may result in an increased number of illegal immigrants seeking to relocate to California in order to take advantage of the benefits of the law.

Supporters of the law, on the other hand, argue that it will ultimately be beneficial to California, as the state will have more residents who are educated and employable at higher levels in the workforce.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Advice on the DREAM Act?

The DREAM Act proposes to make some major changes to immigration policies and laws. If you or a loved one has any issues, questions, or concerns regarding the federal DREAM Act or the California DREAM Act, it may be helpful to consult with an immigration lawyer for advice.

Your lawyer will be able to advise you regarding the current state of the Act, explain how the Act applies and may apply in your case as well as represent you in court if you feel you have been discriminated against.

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