The Dream Act: What it is, and Why it is Urgent

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The DREAM Act of 2017, sponsored by SC Senator Lindsey Graham, will provide those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals of 2012 (DACA) a way to finally stabilize their legal status and eventually become US citizens.  Those with DACA came to the US as children, grew up in America, but have never been given a path to become US citizens.  For many, the United States is the only home they remember.

So, what does the DREAM Act accomplish and why is its passage critical and urgent?

The DREAM Act Provisions

A person who meets the following criteria may receive conditional lawful permanent resident status.

  • Been continuously physically in the US for 4 years preceding the date the bill becomes law.
  • 17 years old or younger when they entered the US.
  • No criminal record. Significant misdemeanors like DUIs and criminal domestic violence would bar eligibility, as would felonies. Minor traffic offenses like driving without a license or speeding would not bar eligibility.
  • Is not a security threat.
  • Has never persecuted another person for various reasons, including race or religion.
  • Is in high school or college, has graduated from high school, or has a GED.
  • Pass a biometric (fingerprints), biographic and background check.
  • Pass a medical examination given by a doctor approved by the immigration services.
  • Register with the Selective Service, as required.

Those who meet these criteria will have conditional permanent resident status for 8 years. After the 8 years if they can meet certain criteria they can then be eligible for a higher legal status, like a non-conditional green card or citizenship.  The DREAMER will have to show:

  • No felony or significant misdemeanors.
  • Not a security threat.
  • Has never persecuted another person for various reasons, including race or religion.
  • Has maintained residence in the US continuously.
  • Has obtained a college degree or completed at least 2 years of a bachelor’s degree OR
  • Has completed at least 2 years of military service and was discharged honorably OR
  • Has been employed for a total of 3 years under the conditional permanent resident status.
  • Is able to read, write and speak English and understand history and the US government.
  • Has completed an updated fingerprinting and background checks.

This bill also mandates that those who qualify, but are not old enough to apply, cannot be deported. This would include school age children in elementary and junior high.

Why is passage of The DREAM Act urgent?

It is imperative this bill be passed soon.  DACA is an Executive Order that was enacted by President Obama and President Trump promised to end.  Ten Attorneys General, including SC Attorney General Alan Wilson, sent a letter to Trump informing him if the DACA Executive Order is not rescinded in early September these Attorneys General will bring a lawsuit against the federal government to end DACA and put these youth, about 6400 in South Carolina back into undocumented status.  Without the DREAM Act in place, youth who were brought to the US and grew up here will go back into the shadows.  Currently, there are no “paths to citizenship or legal status” for these youth. It is not as simple as marrying a US citizen or joining the military to obtain status.  Immigration law is complex and these complexities keep recipients of DACA from having the means to obtain another form of legal status.  These young people want to have a green card or have citizenship – they just don’t have that option under current immigration law.  The DREAM Act would provide this path and allow them to continue contributing to our society – the one they grew up in and consider home.

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