Understanding the DREAM Act

The DREAM Act (S. 1545) is currently being considered by the U.S. Senate. It would give states the right to determine who qualifies for in-state tuition, and thus allow states to charge in-state tuition to undocumented students. (This right was taken away from states in 1996 by Section 505 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act; The DREAM Act proposes the repeal of Section 505.).

The DREAM Act would allow an undocumented student to apply for a six-year conditional permanent resident status if he or she meets each of the following criteria:

  • Entered the United States before age 16, AND
  • Has been accepted into a two- or four-year institution of higher education and has a high school diploma or G.E.D., AND
  • Is living in the United States at the time the law is enacted, AND
  • Has “good moral character” (as defined by immigration law) and no criminal record.

When the six years are up, a person could remove the conditional status and attain permanent resident status if he or she meets one of the following criteria:

  • A two- or four-year degree from a two- or four-year institution of higher education, OR
  • Good standing for at least two years at an institution of higher education while working toward a bachelor’s degree or higher, OR
  • Service in the U.S. armed forces for at least two years.

(An additional criterion included in the original bill was performance of at least 910 hours of community service; this avenue to permanent resident status was removed from the bill by an amendment.)

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the DREAM Act on Oct. 23 by a 16-3 vote, but only after it added an amendment sponsored by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). The amendment would make DREAM Act beneficiaries ineligible for federal financial aid grants (such as Pell Grants). It would also eliminate the option for students who attain a six-year conditional residency status through the DREAM Act to attain permanent residency at the end of the six years by completing 910 hours of community service.The American Immigration Lawyers Association praised the Senate Judiciary Committee for passing the DREAM Act but expressed “disappointment with the provisions amended to the bill” and said it will “work to strengthen the bill as it moves to the Senate floor.”