DREAM Act Summary: Facts and Fiction About Proposed Immigration Education Law

Over more than a decade of debate, the facts about the DREAM act are sometimes obscured by the mythology

By Neil Johnson
Posted 2013

DREAM Act Summary
DREAM Act Summary

Much debated but still not adopted, the DREAM act is a law that could open the path for awarding more green cards as well as make college and military available for children of immigrants who brought them to the United States illegally.

The bill has languished in Congress since 2001 – long enough that high school seniors who graduated when the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act was introduced are almost too old to be helped by the law even if does pass in 2013.

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Of course, there’s no certainty that is going to happen.

Hopes have been raised among advocates for the DREAM act because of some softening on immigration policy by conservatives after the GOP’s poor showing among Hispanics in the 2012 election, according to thehill.com.

Myths Grow Around the DREAM Act

Since 2001, the DREAM Act has accumulated mythology.

The law is aimed at children brought to the country illegally by their parents. Under current law, they can attend public school but are stymied because of their illegal status from attending college, joining the military or even legally working.

The act would affect roughly 2.1 million children and teens, according to ImmigrationPolicy.org, part of the American Immigration Council, though the council said exact numbers are difficult to pin down.

Those with a high school diploma or GED would have conditional legal status for six years, allowing 65,000 high school graduates each year to attend college. Finishing two years of a bachelor’s degree program or two years wearing a military uniform would gain them legal permanent resident status.

The path to legal status for children who came to the country illegally has opened the law to criticism that it is an amnesty program rewarding law breakers and those who shouldn’t be in the country at all.

A White House publication about the act said applicants go through background checks and have to complete the two-year requirement in either college or the military without getting in trouble. They would gain no special status for consideration, the publication said.

But the cost of educating the extra students is not covered and would fall mainly to states which would have to raise taxes and tuition to offset a surge in students, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, which estimated how the DREAM Act would hit taxpayers and students through tuition for $6.2 billion a year.

Offsetting that, the economy would be buoyed by up to $3.6 trillion in higher wages the college-educated immigrants would earn over their working lives, ImmigrationPolicy.org said. Those higher wages would mean less need to tap public assistance and also more in taxes from the workers, the site said.

Immigrants with protection of legal status might also be more willing to invest in the mainstream economy, buying homes, opening bank accounts and businesses, the site said.

Students covered under the act would not receive federal grants for college, mainly the Pell Grant. They could, however, apply for federal work study programs and student loans, the site said.

Though the loans are supposed to be repaid, defaults on student loans topped 9% in 2011, meaning 375,000 of 4.1 million people supposed to pay their loans didn’t, according to an article on moneycnn.com.

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The law would only apply to youngsters who came to this country at least five years before it takes effect and were younger than 16. Supporters point to this to defend against concerns the law will become a magnet for illegal immigration, the immigration policy website said.

Also, lengthy waiting periods and the long process to become a legal resident means there won’t be a flood of relatives eligible for legal status on the coattails of the students, the site said.

Impacts predicted by foes and supporters, though, may not be huge. The White House said fewer than 38% of those eligible under the act would complete the process and get their green cards.

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