The Dream Act 2017 Bill was introduced into Congress last week with bi-partisan support. In a political time where immigration policies and immigrants seem to be under constant attack, this well-drafted bill, if ultimately passed, could provide many individuals who came to the U.S. before their 18th birthday a chance to become legal residents of the United States.
You may be familiar with DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This executive order signed by former President Obama on June 15, 2012 continues to provide to some individuals who came to the U.S. before their 16th birthday, and who were born after June 15, 1981, the ability to apply for work authorization and not be deportable for the duration of the grant. There are a number of other criteria necessary to qualify for DACA, and if eligible, work authorization is granted in two year renewable increments.
The proposed 2017 Dream Act notably increases the number of eligible applicants by requiring that the person have arrived in the U.S. prior to turning 18 (rather than 16 which is currently required by DACA). There would also no longer be any requirement that the applicant have been born after June 15, 1981. There are many individuals who are not eligible for DACA either because they arrived in the U.S. when they were 16 or 17, or alternatively, they were born before June 15, 1981. By changing these requirements, many more individuals may be able to qualify for 2017 Dream Act than are able to at this moment under DACA.
Another big difference is that the proposed 2017 Dream Act provides some leniency with criminal convictions. While the same criminal bars to DACA would apply to the 2017 Dream Act, expunged convictions would not automatically disqualify an applicant for the 2017 Dream Act. This is very important; even if a conviction is expunged (meaning that the conviction is cleared from the criminal record as if there was no conviction), immigration still treats it as a conviction because there was an initial finding or admission of guilt. This exception for expunged convictions may enable some young people who were barred from DACA to be able to qualify for the 2017 Dream Act. Furthermore, the 2017 Dream Act also allows for discretion to waive inadmissibility based on criminal convictions if one can show compelling humanitarian reasons. While one would have to wait to see how that discretion would be exercised in practice in the 2017 Dream Act passes, it is promising to see that the bi-partisan drafters of the bill are taking into consideration that a contact with law enforcement should not automatically disqualify anyone from this benefit without taking into consideration other factors.
Of course, the biggest difference is that the 2017 Dream Act proposes a route to legal permanent residence (a green card) rather than just work authorization. The green card would be conditional for 8 years during which time certain educational or work goals would have to be attained. After the 8 years in conditional green card status and meeting those goals, an applicant would be eligible for a permanent green card.
There are many other differences proposed by the 2017 Dream Act and you read the bill here. Please remember that this is not yet law but only a proposed law. We will track how this bill passes through Congress and hope that relief will finally be passed for this group of people who have waited so many years for a pathway to legal residence.
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