National Immigration Law Center
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DREAM Policy Table

Compose

OCTOBER 2013

DREAM Policy Table

Immigration Reform Principles

The DREAM Policy Table is a coalition composed of 100+ national immigrant and refugee rights, education, religious, child welfare, civil rights, and labor organizations that has historically worked to win passage of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. It serves as a forum to share information and analysis on policies that affect immigrant youth, to develop and coordinate plans of action.

As we move forward in the immigration debate, the DREAM Policy Table believes that there needs to be strong bipartisan legislation that addresses the tragedy of young people who grew up in the United States and have graduated from our high schools, but whose future is circumscribed by our current immigration laws. DREAMers came to the U.S. with their families for a better life: It’s here that DREAMers and their parents’ dreams were planted and it’s here they will be realized. Therefore, to fully address the needs of DREAMers and their families, immigration reform must provide a path to citizenship for the parents and families of DREAMers and include a DREAM provision that includes the following principles.

1. Set age parameters to include all individuals brought here as minors.

The DREAM provisions should apply to all individuals who were brought to this country as children and now call this country their home. Therefore, the bill should not include any arbitrary age cap that limits the ability of DREAMers to access the law’s benefits after they reach a given age. DREAMers who are now in early adulthood have often spent more time in this country, acquired their education here, and are developing their careers in the United States. Many older DREAMers include those who, ironically, built the political momentum for the DREAM Act in their younger years but have yet to benefit from their courageous efforts. Congress should not cut off their contributions by imposing an artificial age cap that lacks a rationale. Furthermore, all young people who came to this country as children should have access to the path to citizenship provided by the DREAM Act. Therefore, the minimum age of entry should be set at age 18 to ensure that some individuals who came into the country when they were still minors are not excluded from the Act.

2. Provide accessible educational requirements that encourage school enrollment and include little DREAMers.

Although some DREAMers in our community have been lucky enough to acquire higher education degrees, many DREAMers face significant obstacles in accessing education. In fact, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimated in 2010 that only 38 percent of the 1.9 million DREAMers who met the age and time in country requirements would be able to access a path to citizenship through the higher education or military service options. In addition to excluding many young DREAMers, a disproportionate number of DREAMers would have been excluded due to educational, poverty and linguistic trends that put education out of reach for many immigrant youth. In contrast, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program’s eligibility requirements, which allows DREAMers to qualify for discretionary relief if they enroll in school or have obtained a high school degree or its equivalent, will eventually lead to the inclusion of 800,000 DREAMers who are currently enrolled in the K-12 system, 390,000 DREAMers who have obtained a high school degree or its equivalent, and 350,000 DREAMers who have not obtained a degree but could qualify if they enroll in school.

Moreover, almost half of all DREAMers would have been ineligible for conditional legal status under the 2010 legislation simply because they were too young to have met the high school graduation requirement. Similarly, MPI estimated that about 28 percent of DREAMers were under the age of 15 when DACA was announced, a proportion that adds up to about 500,000 DREAMers in total. Due to their age, these children, or “Little DREAMers,” would have trouble meeting a higher education requirement if one were imposed in a DREAM provision. However, it would be counter-intuitive to deny an expedited path to citizenship to the youngest DREAMers simply because of their age, particularly since the stability and sense of belonging that comes from acquiring citizenship is likely to be most meaningful to young children who are at a crucial stage in their development.

All young people who call this country their home deserve a chance at full inclusion in our society and a shot at an education. For these reasons, the educational option to accessing a path to citizenship should simply require that a DREAMer be either enrolled in school or have acquired a high school or GED degree if they are no longer in school.

3. Limit time in conditional status.

The eligibility criteria for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status must not include a requirement that the applicant have spent a certain number of years in a conditional status prior to adjusting to green card status and eventual citizenship. A reasonable DREAM Act will take into account the commitment to this country that stems from having grown up here, and will not force DREAMers to wait in a less favorable status for an arbitrary number of years before they can fully integrate into U.S. society.

4. Provide a work or community service option.

The criteria permitting an individual to adjust to LPR status must include the option to perform community service or other work alongside the option to adjust through attending school or military service. With tuition costs rising across the country, education is increasingly inaccessible to many DREAMers, and some may not find military service to be an appropriate way to use their talents. Including a community service option would permit these individuals to demonstrate their dedication and commitment to this society without penalizing those who cannot access education.

5. Preserve government resources by streamlining DACA recipients’ applications.

The DREAM provision in immigration reform must include a separate process through which individuals who have already received DACA can adjust their status in a streamlined fashion. In particular, the Secretary must be authorized to grant a new legal status if the individual can demonstrate that he or she has been granted deferred action through the DACA program. Given the lower costs associated with this process, DACA recipients should not be charged a second fee for this adjustment. The inclusion of this pathway would increase the efficiency and the pace of processing for the DREAM Act’s benefits and would reduce the costs and administrative burden of adjudication. It would also enable DACA recipients to attain lawful permanent resident status on a conditional basis more quickly.

6. Do not double-punish youth by excluding those who have been criminalized.

The DREAM Act should enable the legalization of as many DREAMers as possible who have generally stayed out of trouble, without overly penalizing the minor mistakes that are common in young adulthood. We believe that adding criminal bars to those that already exist in immigration law would be duplicative and overly punitive. Our network also believes that DREAMers who have been criminalized because of their status due to harsh state anti-immigrant laws and policies should not suffer a double penalty by being excluded from the DREAM Act.

7. Include a hardship exception.

Including a provision that would allow the Secretary to adjust the status those individuals who meet all of the criteria for adjustment to LPR under the Act except those related to community service, work, education or military service in certain cases and who demonstrate compelling circumstances for their inability to satisfy those requirements in some cases. The DREAM provision must allow the Secretary the discretion to do so in all cases where a DREAMers’ deportation would cause hardship to himself or to his spouse, parent or child.

8. Repeal 8 U.S.C. § 1623 and ensure access to federal financial aid.

Federal law has made many states steer away from providing all students who have resided in their state for a given period of time with access to in-state tuition. The inability of many DREAMers to access higher education on equal terms continues to have detrimental impacts on our economy and our society, and results in the disempowerment of bright young minds. We call on Congress to ensure that this provision is repealed as part of immigration reform. We also strongly urge you to provide DREAMers who are in any conditional or limited legal status with access to federal financial aid on the same terms as other young people who are part of this country. Doing so will encourage DREAMers to succeed academically and support the thousands of DREAMers who are ready and willing to acquire the skills they need to contribute to economy at their fullest potential.

9. Allow deported DREAMers to access a path to citizenship.

Although many immigrant youth are presently contributing to their communities in the United States, many have already fallen victim to our nation’s unjust immigration policies. DREAMers who have already been pushed out of this country by an inflexible immigration system often have tremendous difficulty adjusting to their native countries, which are often entirely foreign to them, and are unable to give back to the country that helped raise them. These young people should be able to apply for the same legal process to return to their rightful home that other DREAMers in the US have access to.

10. Protect applicants’ confidentiality.

The DREAM Act must include provisions to protect individuals’ application information from being disclosed by government officers or employees. Moreover, the exemption to the confidentiality provision should be limited to disclosures to agencies only for the purposes of a criminal investigation or prosecution of the applicant, so long as the investigation or prosecution is not related to the applicant’s immigration status or immigration-related violations.