The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, called the DREAM Act for short, was first introduced in 2001 with the goal to award permanent residency to young illegal immigrants that came the United States as children. Rebuked and unpassed by federal congress, states all over the country have made their own versions, all with the same goal to help these young people out.
Since the beginning of the bill’s introduction, its intentions have been to face the ever-growing number of illegal immigrants coming to the United States while young, many having little attachment to their native countries. They became known as the “DREAMers”, meant to represent a double meaning between the name of the bill and dreams of the future.
Given their illegal status, many stopped their education at high school, unable to enroll in some universities or just plain afford it because they could not register for federal financial aid.
While not a direct route to citizenship, this act would’ve allowed DREAMers to become legal by granting them a conditional permanent residency, later working on the road to citizenship. DREAMers would also still be unable to qualify for federal grants, but they would be able to take out loans and have a work study. The bill was dismissed in 2001 and again in 2010 when Obama and the Democratic Party pushed for its resurgence.
There have been temporary solutions, such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, launched by President Obama in 2012. Though the two are similar, the DREAM Act offers a more lasting solution with a road to permanent residence while DACA gives access to work permits and exemption from deportation as long as they reach certain standards.
States have also come forward with their own versions of the DREAM Act. While they don’t have the power to legalize illegal immigrants, they could offer in-state tuition to those that qualify as DREAMers.
States such as California, Kansas, New Mexico, and New York, among others, have already passed laws that would allow in-state tuition under the conditions that DREAMers graduate high school and promise to apply for citizenship as soon as possible.
In 2014, Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed a similar form of the DREAM Act that allowed illegal immigrant students to pay in-state tuition as long as they met conditions such as graduating from a Florida high school and enrolling in a university 24 months after graduating.
While at least 20 states have adopted their own versions of the DREAM Act, there is still a long way to go before it becomes a nationwide bill. Organizations like the Center for American Progress have highlighted the economic benefits of the law while other groups, like United We Dream, have garnered nationwide support through its web of groups.
Supporting these types of groups is one way to help pass the DREAM Act nationwide. Speaking to a state governor is also another way.
The road of the DREAM Act remains a shaky one, with support and animosity coming from both sides. While it remains stagnant in Congress, its message and goals have spread across the country and opened up a debate about immigration and what it means to be a DREAMer.
To be eligible as a DREAMer, applicants must:
- Have entered the US before the age of 16.
- Have been present in the US for at least 5 consecutive years prior to the bill.
- Have graduated from a US high school or obtained a GED.
- Be between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time of application.
- Be willing to undergo extensive background checks – not just criminal, but also on character.
By Nathalie Mairena