Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have recently introduced a newer and stronger version of the “Dream Act” to the U.S. Senate in a bipartisan attempt to remedy the current woes of U.S. immigration policy that makes even young immigrants vulnerable to deportation. The bill would give young undocumented immigrants currently protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative legal status and expanded pathways to American citizenship.
This move marks yet another attempt to pass this legislation into law since its first conception in 2001 by Senator Durbin. These continued efforts come amid a decisive declaration from conservatives that they would sue the Trump Administration if it doesn’t end the DACA initiative, which is currently protecting about 800,000 undocumented youth from deportation.
We’re breaking down what to expect from the Dream Act of 2017, how it differs from past versions, and its reception so far.
How will the new Dream Act affect undocumented youth?
The 2017 Dream Act will offer a three-step pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants. Step one would give undocumented youth Conditional Permanent Residency (CPR) status—which is the equivalent of DACA status today—if they lived in the U.S. for at least four years and arrived under the age of 17. They would also be required to graduate high school or obtain a GED.
Applicants with CPR status are also required to pass background checks, demonstrate English proficiency and knowledge of U.S. history, and make sure to steer clear of any serious criminal offenses or felonies.
After 8 years, applicants would become eligible to apply for Legal Permanent Residency (LPR) status (the equivalent of being a green card holder), in step two of the initiative by completing at least two years of higher education or military service, or at least three years total of employment.
Eligibility would also be expanded to brand new categories, such as gaining citizenship through employment or a hardship waiver granted to those with disabilities or those who are full-time guardians of a minor. After maintaining LPR status for five years, the applicant will finally be able to apply for U.S. citizenship in step three of the program.
How is the new bill different from past versions?
The 2017 Dream Act is arguably the most expansive iteration of the bill yet. Senators have broadened options for Legal Permanent Residency, such as gaining citizenship through employment or by demonstrating hardship, a move that could grant more undocumented youth green card status than ever before.
The new Dream Act also extends the minimum age of entry to those below the age of 18. Previous versions of the bill limited the minimum age to 16, which would inevitably have excluded a sizable portion of undocumented youth who are well on their way to graduate high school or enroll in higher education.
Those who have not previously applied for DACA would not automatically attain CPR status—they would have to apply for it and pay a “reasonable application fee.”
Multiple versions of the Dream Act have been introduced since 2001. Although the bill has yet to pass, it’s come close a couple times. Senator Durbin has been pushing for the legislation to pass for so long that he has apparently been dubbed the “great-grandfather of the Dream Act,” according to NBC News.
Who’s supporting the new bill? And who might stand in the way?
The 2017 Dream Act so far has gained bipartisan support by a handful of members of Congress, but according to the Washington Post, many are wary that the bill wouldn’t survive a Republican-dominated Congress. Even if it does pass through Congress, the Trump Administration has already said that it wouldn’t sign or support it.
Senators feel the urgency of passing this legislation, especially amid a decisive deadline a group of conservatives has imposed on Trump. A group of 10 state attorneys general led by Texas has given the Trump Administration an ultimatum: If he doesn’t end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program by Sept. 5, they’ll take them to court.
In contrast, 20 state attorneys general urged Trump to preserve DACA because letting students eventually enter the workforce would stimulate the economy.
It’s an uncertain time for undocumented youth in the United States, and young immigrants across the nation are holding their breaths while lawmakers essentially decide the fate of their futures. In a press conference to announce the bill, Senator Lindsey Graham urged for compassion from both Republican Congresspeople and Trump to warm up to this legislation.
“When they write the history of these times, I’m going to be with these kids,” he said.