Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the DREAM Act

We have received many inquiries in response to our recent posting about President Obama’s vision for comprehensive immigration reform.  From these inquiries it appears that there may be some confusion between President Obama’s call for comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act.  President Obama’s overall vision for immigration reform at this point in time is simply a set of principles and ideas to start the national discussion on immigration reform.  On the other hand, the DREAM Act is an actual piece of legislation that has been introduced in Congress several times and, by itself, makes up only a small portion of President Obama’s immigration reform initiative.  In this article, we will discuss the DREAM Act in some detail and then give some consideration as to how the Act fits into the overall immigration reform landscape.

The DREAM Act (an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), is a legislative proposal first introduced in Congress in 2001.  The intention of the Act is to create a method in which children who were brought here illegally can become “legal” if certain conditions are met.  The Act has gone through several iterations since its introduction, but in general, it would allow for certain deportable aliens a path to citizenship as long as several conditions are met.  The illegal/deportable alien must:

  1. have come to United States as a child (under the age of 15)
  2. graduate from a U.S. high school or receive a General Education Diploma
  3. live in the United States as a long-term resident for at least five years
  4. be 35 years old or younger as of the enactment of the legislation
  5. possess “good moral character”
  6. register for selective service

The qualifying alien will then be granted “conditional permanent resident status” for a period of six years.  Within this six year period, the conditional permanent resident could remove his or her conditional basis by either (1) completing at least two years of a four-year program for a bachelor degree or higher at a United States university, or (2) serving in the United States Armed Forces for at least two years.

On September 21, 2010 the DREAM Act’s supporters could not garner enough votes to defeat a Senate filibuster, and thus all progress on the bill was halted.  The bill was reintroduced in the Senate on May 11, 2011.  Several key Senators who have supported the bill in the past have now publicly stated that they will not support the bill unless immigration enforcement legislation is also passed. Currently, it is believed that the DREAM act will be tied to legislation that will require all employers in the United States to use the government’s E-verify system to verify the legal working status of its employees.

By allowing undocumented students a path to citizenship, the country will benefit from their education, military service, and their future contributions to society – they should not continue to be punished for the acts of their parents or family members who brought them to the United States illegally.  We believe that tying the DREAM Act to the E-verify system is a mistake because the recently introduced legislation for E-verify is heavily flawed.  As mentioned above, the DREAM Act is just one small facet of comprehensive immigration reform.  The fact that even this relatively modest piece of immigration legislation has come under such withering criticism and debate does not bode well for the likelihood of passing comprehensive immigration reform in the foreseeable future.

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