How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The 10th anniversary of the Dream Act

Photo by DreamActivist/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Dream Act supporters outside L.A. City Hall, June 2009

Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the original Dream Act. The first Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act was introduced August 1, 2001 by Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, with a bipartisan group of cosponsors.

The bill's timing could not have been worse. In a little more than a month, the political landscape surrounding immigration would change drastically, obliterating any chance of passage. But after years of reintroductions, amendments and changing sponsors, the proposal to grant conditional legal status to young undocumented people brought here as minors continues to make its way around Congress, making it a noteworthy anniversary.

Here is a summary of the bill, then known as S.1291, as it was introduced:

Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act or DREAM Act - - Amends the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to repeal the provision prohibiting an unlawful alien's eligibility for higher education benefits based on State residence unless a U.S. national is similarly eligible without regard to such State residence.

Amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to direct the Attorney General to cancel the removal of, and adjust to conditional permanent resident status, certain (inadmissible or deportable) alien higher education students under the age of 21 with qualifying years of U.S. residency.


A 2002 amended summary set more detailed guidelines:
Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act or the DREAM Act - Amends the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to repeal the denial of an unlawful alien's eligibility for higher education benefits based on State residence unless a U.S. national is similarly eligible without regard to such State residence.

(Sec. 3) Authorizes the Attorney General to cancel the removal of, and adjust to permanent resident status, an alien who: (1) has attained the age of 12 prior to enactment of this Act; (2) files an application before reaching the age of 21; (3) has earned a high school or equivalent diploma; (4) has been physically present in the United States for at least five years immediately preceding the date of enactment of this Act (with certain exceptions); (5) is a person of good moral character; and (6) is not inadmissible or deportable under specified criminal or security grounds of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Authorizes the Attorney General to take similar steps with respect to an alien who: (1) would have met such requirements during the four-year period immediately preceding the enactment of this Act; and (2) is enrolled in, or has graduated from, an institution of higher education.

Directs the Attorney General to establish a procedure permitting an alien to apply for cancellation and adjustment without being placed in removal proceedings (in addition to cancellation and adjustment availability in removal proceedings). Provides for: (1) expedited application processing without additional fees; and (2) confidentiality of applicant information.

Prohibits the removal of an alien who has not yet received a high school diploma or equivalent but has a reasonable opportunity of meeting the requirements under this Act. Permits such an alien to work.

(Sec. 4) Directs the Attorney General to report annually on the number, status, and disposition of applications under this Act.


Different provisions have made their way into the Dream Act since, including the condition that youths must either attend college or join the military to qualify for legal status, but its basic premise remains the same. Half a dozen versions have been introduced, none making it through Congress. A 2010 version was approved last December in the House but didn't clear the Senate.

Hatch, the original bill's sponsor, skipped the Senate vote in December. He introduced a subsequent version in 2003, but has since dropped his support for the legislation. The most recent version was introduced earlier this summer by Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin. It has been heard in a Senate committee but has yet to make it to a floor vote.

What the decade-long campaign to pass the Dream Act has done, however, is encourage a massive student movement that has grown exponentially in recent years. Its defining characteristic has been the act of "coming out" publicly as undocumented, a risky political move that began as a way of activists putting a face on those who would benefit from the legislation, but which for many undocumented students has since evolved into a rite of passage.

blog comments powered by Disqus