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DREAM Act Refresher

As the Senate debates whether the DREAM Act should be included in the defense authorization bill next week, it seems like a good time for a quick refresher on what the DREAM Act is and who it would impact.

What is it?

** **The DREAM Act — the acronym is for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act — was first introduced in 2001 by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). (He’s now an opponent of the bill.) The idea is to provide a path to citizenship for young people who came to the U.S. as children, some of whom don’t even realize they are not citizens until they try to get a driver’s license or apply for college.

Under the act, eligible students can apply for a conditional legal status for a six-year period. During that period, they must graduate from a two-year college, complete two years of a four-year university, or serve in the military for two years. (The military addition replaced community service, which some immigrants rights advocates have criticized.) At the end of the six-year period, they can become permanent legal residents if they have a clean criminal record.

The DREAM Act has come up in Senate a few times since 2001, but only went to a vote as a standalone bill once, after a push in 2007 by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). This year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he will attach it to the defense authorization bill.

Who would it impact?

To be eligible for the DREAM Act, illegal immigrants must be between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time the bill is enacted. They must have arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 and lived there for five years consecutively since their arrival. So-called “DREAMers” must demonstrate “good moral character” — which roughly translates to a clean criminal record — and earn an American high school diploma or GED.

The DREAM Act would not provide citizenship, or even legal status, to all of those eligible. About 2.1 million unauthorized immigrant youth and young adults who would be eligible to apply for legal status under the DREAM Act, but only about 825,000 would eventually gain citizenship, in part due to educational barriers, according to July estimates by the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute. Immigrants who meet the baseline criteria and have already completed two years of college or military service are eligible for citizenship.

The argument for it

**** Supporters of the DREAM Act argue it is the fair way to deal with young people who have grown up in the U.S. but have no clear path to legal residency. The bill would save students from deportation and keep American-educated students, whose childhood education was funded with tax-payer dollars, in the U.S.

“DREAM Act students should be allowed to get on with their lives,” according to the pro-reform Center for Community Change. “If Congress fails to act this year, another entire class of outstanding, law-abiding high school students will graduate without being able to plan for the future, and some will be removed from their homes to countries they barely know.”

**The argument against it **

****According to its opponents, the DREAM Act is amnesty for illegal immigrants and should be stopped. Many Republicans have taken this stance, arguing it should be combined with enforcement-heavy measures so it won’t draw illegal immigrants to the country.

“It will provide a powerful incentive for more illegal immigration by allowing states to give in-state tuition to illegal students,” Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “It’s really an insult to legal, tax-paying citizens.”

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