Helping Some Immigrants Live the DREAM

Each year, it's estimated that there are millions of illegal (PDF) or undocumented immigrants in the US. Many have been here for years, working and trying to make a living or getting an education. Since 2010, federal lawmakers have been working a new law to help people in these situations.


The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) is designed to help some undocumented residents get legal permanent resident (LPR) status, that is, get green cards. With LPR status, immigrants can stay in the US permanently to go to school, work or even serve in the US military.

Not an Easy Road

The DREAM Act was proposed in 2010 but it never became law despite the efforts of many members of Congress. Not long after it failed, the Department of Homeland Security announced that undocumented resident-students and young adults who would have been covered by the DREAM Act were not a priority for deportation efforts.

That being said, and coupled with many federal lawmakers' drive to make the DREAM Act a reality, the law was reincarnated in 2011.

What Does It Cover

As was the case in 2010, the House of Representatives and Senate each practically identical versions of the law. In general, you're covered by the Act if you:

  • Entered the US when you were 15 years old or younger
  • Lived in the US for at least five years in a row before the DREAM Act became law
  • Graduated from a US high school, got your General Educational Development (GED) diploma or you've been accepted to a college or university
  • Are 35 years old or younger at the time the Act becomes law (it's 32 years old in the House version)
  • Can prove you have good moral character

Your Status

You're given conditional LPR status if you meet these requirements. That means you have other responsibilities to meet and more steps to take before you're granted regular LPR status. Specifically, once you get conditional LPR status, you need to:

  • Graduate from a two-year college or university or certain vocational schools
  • Study for at least two years towards a bachelor's or higher degree
  • Serve in the US armed forces for at least two years

You have six years to satisfy one of these requirements. Once you do, your given unrestricted LPR status. You may face deportation or "removal" from the US if you don't meet one of the requirements with the six-year time frame.

Tuition Assistance

The 2011 DREAM Act removes the penalty charged to states that give in-state tuition rates or other residency-based education benefits to undocumented resident-students. A few states pay the penalty voluntarily because they give in-state tuition rates to undocumented residents who graduated from an in-state high school and attend an in-state college.

Pros and Cons of the Law

The DREAM Act has always been controversial.

Arguments For It

Those in favor it argue it will help hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the US as children, usually by their parents, and raised as Americans. It will help them live the American dream. They can go to college, get a good paying job or join the military, all in an effort to give something back to the country that gave them opportunities they may not have in the home lands.

What Those Against It Say

Those opposed to the law say it helps some illegal immigrants get a green card faster than immigrants who enter the US legally. And, it makes them eligible for green cards they're otherwise not eligible for because they're in the US illegally.

Another criticism is the Act puts some illegal immigrants on a fast track to gaining US citizenship through the naturalization process. How? The six-year conditional LPR period counts towards the residency requirement in the naturalization process. Again, the critics claim, undocumented immigrants get "rewarded" for being in the country illegally.

What You Can Do

Make your voice heard. Contact your elected officials in the US House of Representatives and Senate to let them know if and why you're for or against the law.

Stay tuned to the news, too. If it actually becomes law, there may be changes in what's discussed here, and there'll certainly be rules to follow for applying for the benefits of the Act. You'll also have to be prepared to complete the conditional LPR requirements.

For many immigrants, the American Dream is their life long ambition. For those who've been in the US as productive members of our society, a law like the DREAM Act may be the only way they can continue living that dream.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What options do undocumented immigrants have right now to stay in the US legally?
  • Can I get penalized for being in the US illegally if I the DREAM Act passes and I apply for conditional LPR status?
  • If the DREAM Act passes and I qualify for its benefits, should I apply if I have family members in the US illegally and they don't qualify under the Act?
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