Will Immigrant Youth Ever Get to Live the American DREAM?

The oft-delayed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act took one step forward and two steps back recently, as the United States House of Representatives passed a version of the legislation that would bring illegal immigrants who were brought to America as children a chance at citizenship. Less than one day later, however, the Senate tabled a vote that was supposed to take place, putting it on hold until further notice. Unfortunately, on December 18 the Senate, in a special Saturday session, voted against the bill, leaving the DREAM Act back in legislative limbo.

The Act, which has been circulating in legislative circles in one form or another since 2003, will grant immigrant youth who meet certain criteria the ability to apply for a change in status that could eventually lead to Permanent Residence. The Act would apply to illegal immigrants who:

  • Are under the age of 30
  • Arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16
  • Have obtained (or are in the process of obtaining) a high school diploma or GED
  • Are willing to serve two years in the military or complete at least two years of post-secondary education
  • Are of good moral character
  • Have never been dishonorably discharged from military service

Proponents of this latest version of the DREAM Act refer to its humanitarian and economic incentives - they see the law as enabling well-intentioned youth who came to America through no fault of their own the chance at a better life. By allowing them a chance at secondary education and a chance at Permanent Residence, the law will give them the educational tools necessary to make a positive contribution to the U.S. economy through better-paying jobs and increased spending. Supporters also see the Act as the fair and compassionate way to treat those same youth, many of whom came here so young they have no memories of their home country, culture or language. Hopefully these same benefits will be present in the legislation when it is next proposed.

Opponents of the legislation see it as actually incentivizing illegal immigration, and encourages illegal entry into the U.S., since it essentially provides amnesty to people who would otherwise be facing deportation. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama notes a fundamental unfairness in the law, saying that it offers "job and educational opportunities not available to some citizens who have always followed the law."

Regardless of popular support or dissension, the law is off the table until the 2011 Congressional session begins. Even though the Act has just been voted down by the senate, those who see the positive benefits of the DREAM Act should contact their senators immediately. Without the protections offered by this act, there are thousands of youth in this country illegally who might not think they have any options for changing their status and becoming legal residents. If you have questions about seeking a visa, residency or becoming a citizen, seek the counsel of an experienced immigration law attorney in your area to find out more about your legal rights and options.