Dream Act's Newest Proposal -- May 2011, Senate Bill 952
If Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun had somehow managed to make their way to the United States after World War II and had a child on American soil instead of killing themselves, the child of these hated foreigners would have automatically been an American citizen imbued with all of the rights and privileges afforded thereto. By very sharp contrast, children brought to the United States by illegal immigrants do not receive the same entitlements as citizens, and in many cases, they receive no social support services at all despite the fact that their parents may be hard-working, taxpaying members of their communities with no criminal records and spotless citizenship otherwise for numerous years. This fundamentally unfair approach to treating children differently with respect to the provision of social services -- including educational and healthcare services -- based on the status of their parents could be overcome by the adoption of the provisions of the so-called DREAM Act, but opposition to the bill has prevented its passage to date. To determine the basic provisions of the DREAM Act as well as what its proponents and critics have to say about it, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
According to Palacios (2010), at least 65,000 undocumented students graduate from American high schools each year without any plans for higher education or a career, and countless other undocumented students simply drop out of school based on a lack of educational incentive and become mired in a vicious cycle of low-paying jobs or criminal activities. To address this need, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) would provide the opportunity for undocumented students who are willing to attend college or serve in the armed forces to more fully contribute to American society by creating a clear path to citizenship and allowing states to determine eligibility requirements for in-state tuition (Palacios 2). As originally proposed by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), the DREAM Act would serve to repeal Section 505 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (HRIRA) that has heretofore prevented states from offering in-state tuition to undocumented students unless they offer the same benefit to all out-of-state students (Palacios 2). The elimination of this provision of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act of 1996 would permit individual states to determine the eligibility requirements for higher education benefits, including in-state tuition (Palacios 2). The DREAM Act is widely regarded as being a viable approach to addressing the existing disparities in the treatment of undocumented students by:
1. Providing undocumented students a pathway to citizenship.
2. Allowing undocumented students who meet the following criteria to apply for "conditional" permanent residency status for a period of six years:
The student must have entered the country before the age of 16 and also have been present in the United States for a continuous period of five years immediately preceding the date of enactment of the DREAM Act.
At the time the student applies for conditional permanent residency, the student must have been admitted to a two-or four-year institution of higher education or earned a high school diploma or general education development certificate (GED) in the United States.
The student must have no criminal background and demonstrate good moral standing.
During the six years of conditional permanent residency, in order for the conditional status to be lifted and changed to permanent, the student must satisfy one of the following:
1. Earn a degree from a two-or four-year institution of higher education, or complete two years, in good standing, toward a higher education degree.
2. Serve two years in the armed forces and if discharged, have received an honorable discharge.
The DREAM Act provides protection from deportation and work authorization for students above the age of 12 or older, enrolled in primary or secondary school. The student must meet the requirements for conditional permanent residency (arrived in the U.S. before age 16 and have good moral standing) for the exception of high school graduation or admittance into an institution of higher education. In addition, the DREAM Act provides some higher education financial assistance. Undocumented students who are enrolled in institutions of higher education and meet all of the requirements for conditional permanent residency status would be eligible for federal student loan and federal work-study programs (Palacios 2).
The most recent version of the DREAM Act (hereinafter alternatively "the Act") was introduced in the 112th Congress on May 11, 2011 by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Harry Reid (D-NV) in the Senate as S.952 and in the House by Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. In July 2011, senior members of the Obama administration presented testified before a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security hearing concerning the recently re-introduced Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act (S. 952) (Johnson 1). Officials at the hearing, the first in response to the re-introduction of the Act, included Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Dr. Clifford Stanley, who emphasized President Obama's continuing support for the DREAM Act and described the various ways in which the DREAM Act represents a timely and effective respond to the needs of the nation (Johnson 1). According to Senator Durbin, The DREAM Act would provide the opportunity for a select group of immigrant students who possess the potential to more fully contribute to American society. "These young people were brought to the U.S. As children," Durbin notes, and adds, "they should not be punished for their parents' mistakes" (1). The DREAM Act would provide eligible participants the opportunity to achieve legal status if they:
1. Came to the U.S. As children (15 or under);
2. Are long-term U.S. residents (continuous physical presence for at least five years);
3. Have good moral character;
4. Graduate from high school or obtain a GED;
5. Complete two years of college or military service in good standing;
Proponents of the DREAM Act cite a number of valuable outcomes, including the following:
1. The DREAM Act would benefit the U.S. Armed Forces. During a period in America's history where two shooting wars are still being fought, advocates emphasize the need for DREAM Act participants. Moreover, military service has long been recognized as a legitimate path to American citizenship (Landau 27). Senator Durbin emphasizes that, "Tens of thousands of highly-qualified, well-educated young people would enlist in the Armed Forces if the DREAM Act becomes law" (1). Further, the Defense Department's FY 2010-12 Strategic Plan concludes that the DREAM Act would help "shape and maintain a mission-ready All Volunteer Force" (quoted in Durbin at 1). Likewise, U.S. Department of Defense Secretary Gates has advocated passage of the DREAM Act because it "will result in improved recruitment results and attendant gains in unit manning and military performance" (quoted in Durbin at 1). Another high-level defense official, General Colin Powell, also supports the DREAM Act and argues, "Immigration is what's keeping this country's lifeblood moving forward" (Durbin 2).
2. As the adverse effects of the Great Recession of 2008 linger on, the second benefit of the DREAM Act has assumed new relevance and importance because it would help further stimulate the American economy. In this regard, Senator Durbin cites the results of a UCLA study that found the DREAM Act could pump between $1.4-$3.6 trillion into the U.S. economy during the working lives of its participants. One prominent advocate of the DREAM Act is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who advises that young people who are willing to commit to the requirements of the DREAM Act are precisely those people the American economy needs in the future: "They are just the kind of immigrants we need to help solve our unemployment problem. It is senseless for us to chase out the home-grown talent that has the potential to contribute so significantly to our society" (quoted in Durbin at 2).
The newest version of the DREAM Act also contains important controls in order to prevent abuse of its provisions. For instance, Senator Durbin emphasizes that "DREAM Act participants are not eligible for Pell and other federal grants and are subject to tough criminal penalties for fraud. DREAM Act applicants must apply within one year of obtaining a high school degree/GED or the bill's enactment; and must prove eligibility by a preponderance of the evidence" (Durbin 3). Moreover, there are a number of other protections in place to help ensure compliance with the Act's provisions as well as the caliber of the applicants who can gain admission to the program. For example, Senator Durbin adds that in order to qualify for the newest version of the DREAM Act, "An individual must submit biometric information; undergo background checks and a medical exam; register for the Selective Service; demonstrate…