Up To When Will DACA Students Keep on DREAM-ing?

by Elpidio R. Estioko

DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students, otherwise known as Dreamers, have been dreaming to qualify for conditional permanent resident status since the DREAM Act of 2001 for 21 years now!

Until when will they keep on dreaming? Will there be a green light at the end of the tunnel? Or will it be a perennial dream for them?

Under the DREAM Act, also known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, students who came to the U.S. at age 15 or younger at least five years before the date of the bill’s enactment and who have maintained good moral character since entering the U.S. would qualify for conditional permanent resident status upon acceptance to college, graduation from a U.S. high school.

Until now, however, this didn’t happen because the Act was never passed by the Senate, although it already passed Congress. It must pass both chambers before it will be forwarded to the President for signature to become a law.

With the latest developments of Wyoming representative Liz Cheney losing to former president Donald Trump-backed candidate Harriet Hageman in the primary and other GOP candidates endorsed by Trump gaining momentum towards a possible takeover of Congress, will these be signals of the death of the DREAM Act?

Remember, GOP has been opposed to the act ever since and kept on blocking its passage both in the Lower House and in the Senate. So, if they will be dominating Congress, will this be the demise of the DREAM Act?

As a result, millions of undocumented immigrant Dreamers live in the United States without legal status. The problem lies in the issue of a pathway to lawful status and eventually becoming citizens as provided for in the DREAM Act. Its most recent version was approved by the House of Representatives on March 18, 2021, and sent to the Senate for approval.

According to the National Immigration Law Center, on May 2021, the Dream Act is bipartisan legislation that addresses the tragedy of young people who grew up in the United States and have graduated from our high schools, but whose futures are derailed by current immigration laws.

They derive their immigration status solely from their parents, and if their parents are undocumented or in immigration limbo, they don’t have the mechanism to obtain legal residency, even if they have lived most of their lives in the U.S. The DREAM Act would provide such a mechanism for those who can meet certain conditions.

On May 11, 2011, the latest version of the DREAM Act was introduced in the Senate (S. 952) by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and 32 fellow senators, and in the House of Representatives (H.R. 1842) by Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Lucille Roybal-Allard.

If passed, the DREAM Act would enact two major changes in current law: It will permit certain immigrant students who have grown up in the U.S. to apply for temporary legal status. Eventually, they will obtain permanent legal status and become eligible for U.S. citizenship if they go to college or serve in the U.S. military; and the DREAM Act would eliminate a federal provision that penalizes states that provide in-state tuition without regard to immigration status.

You will notice that the DREAM Act has a path to legal residency for Dreamers. They would qualify for conditional permanent resident status upon acceptance to college, graduation from a U.S. high school, or being awarded a GED in the U.S.

However, if they had committed crimes, were a security risk, or were inadmissible or removable on certain other grounds, they won’t qualify. Under the Senate bill, qualifying students must be under age 35, whereas under the House bill they must be under age 32.

As benefits, students with conditional permanent resident status would be able to work, drive, go to school, and otherwise participate normally in day-to-day activities on the same terms as other Americans. The only exception is that generally, they would not be able to travel abroad for lengthy periods (they have limited durations) and they would not be eligible for Pell Grants or certain other federal financial aid grants.

They would, however, be eligible for federal work-study and student loans, and states would not be restricted from providing their own financial aid to these students.

Dreamers are undocumented immigrants who were born abroad but brought to the United States as children, by their parents without lawful entry, the children then grow up in the United States without legal status. That’s where the Dreamer story began.

In 2012, as a stop-gap-measure, the Obama Administration created the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program, called “DACA” for short.

DACA allowed Dreamers to obtain renewable two-year work permits and to qualify for federal student loans. To apply for DACA, Dreamers need to satisfy certain eligibility requirements with proof including things like a high school diploma, and evidence of military service where applicable, among others.

The DACA program has allowed over 700,000 young undocumented immigrants to live and work lawfully in the United States without fear of deportation daily.

However, in 2017, the Trump administration ordered the Department of Homeland Security to end the DACA program. Fortunately, in June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump Administration used improper procedure in ending the DACA program, providing some relief for Dreamers.

The DACA program and the DREAM Act have similar goals of protecting Dreamers, with a slight difference. The goal of the DREAM Act is to give Dreamers permanent legal status and a pathway to citizenship. On the other hand, DACA only offers “deferred action” that recipients have to renew every two years, a government decision not to start removal proceedings (commonly called “deportation”) against someone on humanitarian grounds.

So, what is the future of the DREAM Act? We can’t be certain what the future holds for Dreamers. The most recent version of the DREAM Act was introduced in Congress in March 2021 called the “American Dream and Promise Act of 2021,” passed the House of Representatives but has not gone up for a Senate vote yet.

Joe Biden was Vice President when President Obama created the DACA program in 2012. During his presidential campaign, Biden promised many times to protect DACA and Dreamers.

On his inauguration day as president, Biden expressed his support for legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and temporary protected status (TPS) for other undocumented immigrants. President Biden has promised to sign the DREAM Act into law once Congress approves it.

It’s up to Congress now whether the DREAM Act becomes a law. In the meantime, Dreamers can apply for DACA to obtain a renewable two-year work permit.

If you can’t afford attorney’s fees and don’t want to handle your DACA case alone, the nonprofit ImmigrationHelp.org may be able to help. If you are eligible, you can use ImmigrationHelp.org to prepare your DACA forms for free. Click “Get Started” to see if ImmigrationHelp.org can help you.

Until when will theDreamers keep on dreaming? As I See It, they will never stop dreaming until they will be granted the green card contained in the DREAM Act!

ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email the author at estiokoelpidio@gmail.com.

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