The U.S. Citizenship Act includes within it a long demanded piece of immigration law – the DREAM Act, named after the “dreamers” who were brought to the US as children. Many of them have been unable to legalize their status due to unforgiving immigration laws which don’t take into account many hardships. This article reviews the DREAM Act as it is included in the U.S. Citizenship Act.
It’s important to know that the DREAM Act is only a proposed law, not a law which has been passed by Congress. There is no benefit to apply for as of the date of this article. While I hope it becomes law soon, in reality immigration laws are hard to pass. We are in a rare moment where it might be possible for big immigration reforms to happen. But keep in mind that this is a proposed law rather than a law which has been passed by Congress.
What is the DREAM Act?
The DREAM Act has been through numerous versions for more than a decade, but today I’m writing about the one included in the U.S. Citizenship Act. This was recently introduced in the US House and Senate after being proposed as a priority by President Biden. The DREAM Act starts at page 19 of the U.S. Citizenship Act, and it is only a small part of this bill. There are many other changes which are really important but not technically included as the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act would insert a new section into the Immigration and Nationality Act at INA § 245D. It is only about 10 pages long, out of a bill that is 353 pages, and it could easily be separated and passed with minimal modification if required to get it passed.
What does the DREAM Act do?
The DREAM Act allows the government to “adjust the status” of certain people to allow them to get permanent residency, AKA green cards. Adjustment of status is the typical process that people use to apply for green cards through their family, including spouses, through employment, or in some other limited circumstances.
This law creates a new path. It also creates a broader path for legalization of other people but that is beyond the DREAM Act itself. Applying for the DREAM Act green card would also lead to US Citizenship, but not as the first step. First, the applicants would become permanent residents. Most people who are residents can apply for US Citizenship after 4 years and 9 months of residency, and this would be no exception.
This law allows the government to give people green cards if they meet some basic requirements. It also includes a streamlined process for those who already have DACA.
DREAM Act Requirements
As written in the proposed law, the requirements are:
- Being younger than 18 years old on the date of their initial entry to the US
- Earning a high school diploma, GED, or similar types of awards
- Meeting an additional set of education requirements by having either
- Earned a degree from an institution of higher education, or
- Completed at least two years of a program in the US leading to a bachelor’s degree or higher or some type of recognized technical credential, or
- Served in the US armed forces for at least two years, or
- Earned income for periods of at least 3 years AND at least 75% of the time that they have had valid work authorization, reduced by time enrolled at an institution of higher learning or a technical education school
- Registration under the Selective Service Act if applicable
- Admissibility requirements – cannot be inadmissible under INA 212(a)(2), (3), (6)(E), (8), (10)(C), and (10)(E)
- No convictions for felony offenses (excluding some immigration status felonies)
- No convictions for three or more misdemeanor offenses, excluding:
- Simple possession of cannabis or cannabis paraphernalia
- Civil disobedience without violence
- Minor traffic offenses
- Physical presence on the day the application is submitted
- Present in the US by January 1, 2021 and continuously, with some exceptions, through the date of approval
A number of these requirements are subject to waivers and exceptions. So even if someone doesn’t qualify under the above requirements they still may qualify for the new law.
Other important changes in the DREAM Act
The law contains some other important provisions that are worth mentioning.
Waiver for the education requirement
There is a significant waiver for people who cannot meet the education requirement. There are two separate education requirements, one which can be called the high school requirement and the other which can be called the higher education requirement (or exceptions). The latter is more challenging to meet and this waiver covers that requirement.
Waivers are available if the applicant can demonstrate that there are “compelling circumstances” that they cannot meet the education requirement. This standard is really quite low in relation to other areas of immigration law. It also appears to be a new standard which hasn’t been applied before.
Spouses and children
There is a short yet important provision which allows any spouses and children of noncitizens who meet the general DREAM Act requirements to qualify on their own. This is important. It means that many spouses and children of people who qualify for this new law also qualify. Most of the children mentioned here would normally be US Citizens already, but some children might benefit. But in the case of stepchildren, who are considered children under immigration law, this could be a really important benefit.
The spouse benefit has wider applicability. It allows spouses of people who qualify for the DREAM Act to also qualify, even if they don’t meet many of the requirements. It appears that a spouse would qualify even without meeting the education requirements or without having entered before age 18. If passed, this would legalize a large amount of people and keep families together.
Special streamlined process for DACA recipients
The DREAM Act requires the government to established a streamlined process for those who have received DACA and who meet the requirements to renew DACA. This mainly excludes those who became ineligible to renew DACA, usually for criminal reasons. The process is not described but it would presumably include faster processing so long as someone can show they have DACA. While it is not entirely clear, there is a good argument to be made that this applies to everyone who has ever had DACA and not only those who have it at the time they apply.
Public benefits and the DREAM Act
The DREAM Act specifically allows DREAM Act recipients to access many important public benefits. Additionally, it allows many DACA recipients (who are not yet permanent residents) to obtain certain benefits. Not every benefit is included, but some relate to home loans and health insurance coverage.
Frequently asked questions about the DREAM Act
The DREAM Act is a powerful pieces of legislation, but there are many questions still remaining. Here are some quick answers based on the way the statute is currently written.
Can I file for the DREAM Act now?
No, it’s not a law. A bill must be passed by Congress and signed by the President to become law. The DREAM Act is only a bill being considered by Congress. It will be extremely clear from the news, reputable law firms and nonprofits when there is something to apply for.
Can I pay now to apply for the DREAM Act?
No. It is likely that anyone asking for payment as of the date of this article is a scammer. There is nothing to pay for at this time, and there is no need to secure legal services at this time for the DREAM Act. It is not recommended to pay for legal fees in advance.
What should I do now if I might qualify for the DREAM Act?
If you appear to qualify for the DREAM Act if it becomes law, you can take some important steps now. First, know that there will likely be a streamlined process for people who already have DACA. If you are eligible for DACA, you should consider applying now. DACA also provides other benefits, such as work authorization and protection from deportation.
Second, look at the higher education requirements and think about how you might meet them. Some involve attending higher education institutions, but those are not the only options. You can also demonstrate eligibility through work and military service. There are also waivers available, but it’s usually better not to rely on a waiver.