Equity & Diversity

Democrats in Congress Revive DREAM Act for Young Undocumented Immigrants

By Corey Mitchell — March 12, 2019 3 min read
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Democrats in the U.S. House have introduced the latest iteration of the DREAM Act, legislation that would put young undocumented immigrants and immigrants with protected status on the pathway to U.S. citizenship.

The Dream and Promise Act of 2019 would pave the way for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, to become permanent residents if they meet certain requirements.

For nearly two decades, lawmakers have attempt to reach consensus on immigration reform. With Democrats now in control of the House, immigration advocates see an opportunity to push through legislation in at least one chamber of Congress.

But the proposal likely faces an uphill battle to win support this time around from the Republican-led U.S. Senate and President Donald Trump.

While on the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly promised to repeal DACA, which offers a two-year deportation stay to young undocumented immigrants who can prove they meet certain criteria, including that they came to the U.S. before age 16, have lived here for at least five years continuously, attend or graduated from high school or college, and have no criminal convictions.

In September 2017, Trump moved to end the Obama-era program that gives protection to an estimated 700,000 immigrants, though legal challenges have kept the program at least partially intact.

Thus far, federal judges in three circuits have blocked the Trump administration from completely dismantling the program. For now, the federal government must process DACA renewal applications, but does not have to process new DACA applications for immigrants who have not previously applied.

What It Means for K-12

If approved—and that’s a big if—the bill could have far-reaching implications for students and teachers in the nation’s public schools.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that a quarter-million students have become DACA-eligible since President Barack Obama began the program in 2012 and that about 9,000 DACA-protected teachers work in U.S. schools.

The Trump administration’s decision could also affect the lives of children born in the United States. Millions of students in the nation’s public and private schools are the children of undocumented immigrants, the Washington-based Pew Research Center estimates.

The proposal “begins to turn the page on the politics of inaction for aspiring new Americans,” National Education Association President Lily Eskelen García said in a statement. “Repeatedly the politics of Congressional inaction for our Dreamers are hurting real people, including DACAmented educators and TPS recipients who are educators.”

The Democrats’ new legislation would grant DACA recipients and other young undocumented immigrants permanent residency if they continuously lived in the United States for four years before the bill is signed into law, came to America when they were 17 years old or younger, did not commit serious crimes, obtained a high school diploma or GED, and passed a background check.

The bill would require the young immigrants to earn a college degree or complete two years of a degree program in an institution of higher education or technical school as part of their pathway to citizenship. They would also qualify if they served honorably in the military or have been employed in the U.S. for more than three years. Under the proposed legislation, the students would also be eligible for federal financial aid.

The bill would also allow hundreds of thousands of recipients of Temporary Protected Status, a program that allows immigrants from countries in crisis to live and work in the United States legally, to gain permanent lawful status.

Since Trump took office, his administration has also sought to end the protections for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Sudan, Nepal and Nicaragua. But, much like the attempt to dismantle the DACA initiative, the administration’s efforts have been hampered by court rulings.

Related Reading

Undocumented Teachers Shielded by DACA in Legal and Emotional Limbo

With Rollback of DACA, ‘Dreamers’ in U.S. Schools Prepare for a Fight

Teachers Rally Around Undocumented Students

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.

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