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Digging into the new Dream Act

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

The latest version of the federal Dream Act that Senate Democrats plan to introduce is, at least for now, fairly similar to the version approved by the House last December.

As have its predecessors, the most recent Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would grant conditional legal status to qualifying young people who are in the United States illegally but were brought here as minors under 16, provided they attend college or join the military.

The eligibility requirements for applicants, if the bill were to become law, remain much the same, However, there are a few key differences:

  • The age cap for applicants, which was reduced to age 29 last year, has been bumped back up to 35 years of age or younger

  • The length of conditional legal status before applicants may obtain permanent legal resident status has been reduced to six years, as in an earlier version, from 10 years

  • This version would, as did an earlier version (but not the House-approved one), seek to repeal a ban on in-state tuition rates for beneficiaries

From a copy of the new bill, provided by the office of lead sponsor Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ilinois), here are the basics requirements for eligibility:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary may cancel removal of, and adjust to the status of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence on a conditional basis, an alien who is inadmissible or deportable from the United States or is in temporary protected status under section 244 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1254a), if the alien demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that—

(A) the alien has been continuously physically present in the United States since the date that is 5 years before the date of the enactment of this Act;

(B) the alien was 15 years of age or younger on the date the alien initially entered the United States;

(C) the alien has been a person of good moral character since the date the alien initially entered the United States;

(D) subject to paragraph (2), the alien - (i) is not inadmissible under paragraph (2), (3), (6)(E), (6)(G), (8), (10)(A), (10)(C), or (10)(D) of section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1182(a));

(ii) has not ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion; and

(iii) has not been convicted of—

(I) any offense under Federal or State law punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of more than 1 year; or

(II) 3 or more offenses under Federal or State law, for which the alien was convicted on different dates for each of the 3 offenses and imprisoned for an aggregate of 90 days or more;

(E) the alien—

(i) has been admitted to an institution of higher education in the United States; or

(ii) has earned a high school diploma or obtained a general education development certificate in the United States; and

(F) the alien was 35 years of age or younger on the date of the enactment of this Act.

In order to obtain permanent legal status, in addition to maintaining "good moral character" during the conditional period and other requirements, beneficiaries would need to: a) have acquired a degree from an institute of higher learning, or at least completed two years in good standing toward a bachelor's or higher degree; b) served at least two years in "uniformed services" and, if discharged, received an honorable discharge.

Durbin and other high-ranking Senate Democrats announced yesterday that they would reintroduce the proposed legislation, versions of which have been circulating for a decade. The bill is guaranteed to face an uphill battle, as it did last year. Last fall, the Dream Act was attached to a defense bill that was voted down, then later voted on as a stand-alone bill that cleared the House but failed in the Senate.

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he might consider tying it to an immigration enforcement measure.