National Immigration Law Center
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Our mission is to defend & advance the rights & opportunities of low-income immigrants and their family members.

DREAM Act: Correcting Myths and Misconceptions

Compose

September 2010

The DREAM Act is a piece of legislation that would give undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children a path toward legal status if they attend college or serve in the military.

MYTH: DREAM students will cut the line and become U.S. citizens before those who are here legally.

  • The DREAM Act would not allow students to jump ahead of those who are here legally.

  • Those who came legally will keep their same place in the existing line and will not be harmed in any way.  Instead, the Department of Homeland Security would create a separate process for individuals who have grown up here but have no existing path to legal status.

MYTH: U.S. taxpayers have to cover the cost of the education of these illegal students.

  • The DREAM Act would not cost money; it would make money for taxpayers. A very conservative estimate finds that the average DREAM Act
    student will make $1 million more over his or her lifetime simply by obtaining legal status, which will net tens of thousands of additional dollars per student for federal, state, and local treasuries.

  • These students will be an asset to our future economy. The DREAM Act is needed so that they can more fully contribute to America’s future prosperity. Business leaders, including companies like Microsoft, have endorsed the DREAM Act because they recognize that we can’t afford to waste precious talent if we are going to compete in the global economy. 

MYTH: American students will lose spots in college due to passage of the DREAM Act.

  • Most undocumented students are likely to have zero impact on admission rates of nativeborn students: Since 2001, 10 states have made it easier for undocumented state residents to attend college by offering in-state tuition to those that qualify. A significant portion of the students that took advantage of this opportunity have done so in community colleges, which have open enrollment. The small numbers of students who will attend 4-year universities are not significant enough to affect the opportunities of others.

  • Legalizing DREAM Act students will increase school revenue, and in the long run, will increase the tax base, thereby allowing more students to attend college.

  • Institutions charged with educating our youth overwhelmingly support the bill. Well-established education organizations like the American Association of Community Colleges, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, National Educators Association, the College Board, and prominent university president/chancellors support the DREAM Act. See copies of support letters.

 MYTH: The DREAM Act is a massive amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants.

  • The DREAM Act is not an amnesty:  The DREAM Act is not a giveaway to undocumented youth, even those who have lived here all of their lives. Rather, it creates a well-defined process to legalize only those who grew up here and who earn status by staying in school and maintaining good moral character.

  • The DREAM Act is narrowly tailored:  Our immigration law currently has no mechanism to consider the special equities and circumstances of these students. The DREAM Act would eliminate this flaw. To apply for relief under the DREAM Act, these young people would have to graduate from high school or earn a GED, have good moral character, have come to the U.S. when they were young and show that they have lived in the U.S. for at least five years.  Students would then be eligible to apply for conditional status. During the 6-year conditional status, students would have to either complete at least two years of higher education or two years of military service. The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates that the likely total number of students to ever benefit from the DREAM Act is 825,000. 

MYTH: The DREAM act tells parents who have sent their children to out-of-state colleges that they will have to pay higher tuition bills than illegal immigrants.

  • Undocumented residents of a state would not get any benefit not granted to U.S. citizen residents. The rationale behind in-state tuition is to credit state residents for their past and likely future economic contributions to the state. Eligible undocumented students and their families – like other residents of the state – are contributing to the economy of the state and will likely stay in the state after graduation. Because of their economic contributions, undocumented students should be credited through in-state tuition programs.If undocumented students choose to attend a university outside of their home state, they will pay the same rates as other out-of-state students.

  • In-state tuition is a smart investment: Students who attend college will move into better paying jobs and pay more taxes and have more money to spend in the state. The average college graduate earns over 60 percent more than the average high school graduate over their careers. Higher earnings translate directly to higher tax revenue and spending power. Contributions that DREAM Act students will make over their lifetimes, once college educated, would dwarf the small additional investment in their education beyond high school. 

MYTH: The DREAM Act will grant amnesty to illegal immigrants no matter how old they are.

  • There is a limit on how old a student can be to qualify for the DREAM Act:  Students must have entered the United States at the age of 15 or younger. In addition, the Senate version of the DREAM Act includes an upper age cap – you have to be under 35 years of age in order to benefit under the bill.

  • Rewarding Success and Hard Work: The DREAM Act would allow a very limited number of students over the age cap to apply for conditional status if and only if they have exceeded the initial requirements.  Specifically, these students must have already completed the educational requirements. These students are less than 1 percent of potential DREAM Act beneficiaries.

  • The DREAM Act should include students who have waited nine years for its passage: Since Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Hatch (R-UT) first introduced the DREAM Act in 20011, students across the country who grew up in the United States have eagerly awaited its passage. At the time of introduction, the age limit for students who qualified under the bill to apply was 26. Because these same students are still waiting for passage of the DREAM Act today, the current version of the bill (S. 729) adjusts the maximum age of qualification to 35 in order to include them.  Some argue that these students are no longer children; however, these students came to this country through migration decisions made by their parents and were raised here just like their younger counterparts. These students know no other country. And they are eagerly waiting for the opportunity to contribute to the neediest sectors of the economy.

MYTH: Illegal aliens only have to submit a petition in which they claim to meet the requirements. There is not a single provision in the DREAM Act that requires them to provide proof that they have met the requirements.

  • The DREAM Act requires the Department of Homeland Security to develop rules governing how potential DREAM Act students will apply for relief after the bill is enacted.

  • Qualifications for the DREAM act can be easily verified: Most of the requirements for eligibility can be verified through documents created and housed within U.S. institutions. These include school enrollment dates, graduation dates and proof of degrees. These records make it easy for immigration officers to independently verify claims from applicants.

MYTH: Beneficiaries of the DREAM can sponsor their relatives—the parents who brought them here illegally, any siblings left in the home country, and then aunts, uncles, cousins, and so on.

  • Even when DREAM beneficiaries attain citizenship, they can never sponsor their aunts/uncles or cousins. Immigration law doesn’t allow it.

  • Many parents will be ineligible to adjust:  Students who fulfill all of the requirements prescribed in the DREAM Act can adjust their status and eventually apply to become U.S. citizens. If they apply and become citizens, like other U.S. citizens, they can petition for their parents when they turn 21. However, if their parents originally entered the country without inspection, they generally would not be eligible to adjust their status in the United States. While parents who entered without inspection may apply for an immigrant visa at a consulate abroad, they would likely be barred from entering the U.S. for ten years if they have been unlawfully present in the U.S. for over six months. There is only a limited waiver of this bar, for those who can show that denying them admission to the U.S. would cause extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent.