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Dream Act of 2021
Priority Bill Spotlight

dream act 2021

The bipartisan Dream Act of 2021 (S. 264), introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), would establish a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. at a young age and have grown up in America. This legislation is critical to ensuring that Dreamers, including thousands filling critical roles as essential workers in the COVID-19 recovery, can continue living in and contributing to the country they call home.

Dreamers are Americans, and a path to citizenship is long overdue. We urge every U.S. Senator to cosponsor this critical legislation.

DACA...has been a remarkable success, but it is limited, temporary, and under immediate legal threat.

The need for a solution is more urgent than ever

Congress has been debating variations of the Dream Act for nearly 20 years.1 While Americans of all political parties overwhelmingly support these policies, Congress has failed to pass a bill and Dreamers have remained stuck in limbo, significantly limiting their ability to attend school, work, and build their lives in the only country they’ve known as home.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that provides many Dreamers work authorization and protection from deportation, has been a remarkable success, but it is limited, temporary, and under immediate legal threat. Despite the Supreme Court’s deeming DACA legal and ordering that the program be reopened, the Attorney General of Texas is leading yet another legal challenge to strip hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients of their permission to work and their protection from deportation.

And that still leaves hundreds of thousands of Dreamers who were unable to enroll in DACA, including nearly 100,000 Dreamers who graduate from U.S. high schools each year, without protection and at risk of deportation.

Polling shows that 83% of Americans, including 66% of Republicans, support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.

Dreamers are deeply integrated in the U.S.

Dreamers have grown up in America, have formed deep ties in their communities, and contribute tremendously in every state across the country. Many Dreamers have been able to earn an education and contribute to the workforce thanks to DACA; this program and its success help provide insight to the experiences of Dreamers as a whole.

On average, DACA-recipients arrived in the U.S. when they were seven years old and have lived here for more than 20 years. About a third of DACA recipients are enrolled in school, while hundreds of thousands more have graduated and are now working in every industry of the economy, including as nurses, teachers, and first responders.

For many Dreamers, America is home to family, including their U.S. citizen children, siblings and extended family. An estimated 1.5 million Americans live with a DACA-recipient, including 250,000 U.S. citizen children who have at least one parent protected by DACA; expanded to the larger Dreamer population, the numbers are likely much larger.

Dreamers also contribute significantly to the U.S. economy, paying an estimated $1.7 billion in state and local taxes each year and contributing $42 billion to GDP annually. Allowing Dreamers to adjust to legal status would increase these contributions significantly.

An estimated 1 million Dreamers are essential workers, almost half of the total Dreamer population. They play a particularly important role in COVID-19 response and recovery, especially in industries like healthcare, food services and production, and housing and facilities.

A pathway to citizenship for Dreamers remains an overwhelmingly popular bipartisan policy. Polling from late January 2021 shows that 83% of Americans, including 66% of Republicans, support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.

Dreamers are Americans, and a pathway to citizenship is long overdue.

Eligible Dreamers could apply for conditional permanent status

The Dream Act of 2021 would establish a process for Dreamers to apply for conditional status and ultimately become citizens.

To qualify for the Dream Act, eligible individuals must generally be considered “inadmissible” or “deportable” under immigration law, or be in temporary protected status. Applicants must have arrived in the U.S. before they were 18 years old and have lived in the U.S. continuously since arriving, at least four years prior to the date of enactment of the legislation. They must also meet an educational requirement by having been admitted to an institution of higher education, or by having earned or be pursuing a high school diploma or equivalent.2

If approved, applicants would be granted conditional permanent resident (CPR) status, valid for eight years and subject to revocation if the individual no longer meets the requirements.3 Those individuals who have been granted and are still eligible for DACA and would automatically qualify for CPR status.

Individuals could apply to have conditions removed after graduating from or completing two years in a postsecondary education program, serving honorably in the military for two years, or working for three years. Many DACA recipients will likely have satisfied these requirements by the time of the bill’s enactment and be eligible to immediately remove conditions.

With conditions removed, Dreamers could pursue citizenship

To demonstrate their eligibility for conditional status and to ultimately earn citizenship, applicants would be required to submit biographic and biometric information, pass a security and law enforcement background check, and pass a medical exam. Applicants would submit detailed documentation proving their identity; entry to and continuous presence in the U.S.; completion of education, military service, or earned income requirements; and eligibility for any waivers of fees or limitations.4

Applicants could be denied CPR status if they have been convicted of certain crimes;5 however, the Secretary of Homeland Security would have authority to waive certain inadmissibility grounds for humanitarian and public interest reasons.

The bill details requirements for applicants to establish eligibility, including documentation proving their identity; entry to and continuous presence in the U.S.; completion of education, military service, or earned income requirements; and eligibility for any waivers of fees or limitations.

In order to remove the conditions on their permanent resident status, applicants would be subject to additional fees and biometric, biographic, and background check requirements when applying to remove conditions. Once those conditions were removed, Dreamers would be able to apply for citizenship, as long as they generally meet naturalization requirements.

Time for Congress to pass the Dream Act

Dreamers are Americans, and a pathway to citizenship is long overdue. Passing the Dream Act would be a positive first step to meaningful immigration reform, and would provide immediate certainty and opportunity for hundreds of thousands of Dreamers and their families.

We urge every U.S. Senator to cosponsor the Dream Act, and for Congressional leadership to quickly bring it up for a vote.

  1. This bill builds on legislation that has been continually introduced for two decades, first by Senators Durbin and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in 2001. A version passed the House of Representatives in 2010, and again with bipartisan support in 2019; while Senators Graham and Durbin reintroduced their version in 2019, the Senate did not vote on the bill.
  2. Many Dreamers are too young to satisfy this education requirement. To that end, the bill orders a stay of removal for Dreamers who satisfy the arrival and continuous presence requirements, who are over five years old, and who are enrolled in early childhood education, elementary school, or secondary school.
  3. An individual whose CPR status is revoked would return to their previous immigration status, so long as they still qualify for it. Eligible individuals seeking CPR status under this bill would not be subject to numerical limitations, meaning the bill would not exacerbate the growing green card backlogs.
  4. The bill details a number of criminal and security bars, worth quoting in full. An individual can only be approved if he or she, "(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, other than a State offense for which an essential element is the alien’s immigration status, that is punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of more than 1 year; or (II) 3 or more offenses under Federal or State law, other than State offenses for which an essential element is the alien’s immigration status, 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.”
  5. The legislation includes fee waivers for individuals who are under 18 years old; have income below 150 percent of the federal poverty line; lack parental support; have a serious, chronic disability; or have significant medical debt. The bill also establishes a hardship exemption for the education/work/service requirements, if the individual has a compelling reason they cannot satisfy the requirements and is disabled, a full-time caregiver, or their removal from the U.S. would cause their family undue hardship.
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