Obama and the DREAM Act

Obama Makes DREAM Act A Reality – At Least Partially

The United States immigration authorities announced on June 15, 2012 a sweeping change that has the potential to benefit young persons who are presently in the US without legal immigration status and who meet certain conditions.  Crucially, many people who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents can be assured that they will not be deported and can now get a work permit for at least two years.

Though this new policy is referred to as “deferred action,” many people will be able to avoid deportation, even if they are already in removal proceedings.  Individuals who qualify will be able to apply to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to be recognized under the program and to receive a work authorization.  At the time of this writing, USCIS is not yet taking deferred action applications; the agency has announced that it will likely begin taking these immigration applications in mid-August.  To learn more about this extremely important US immigration law change and for help applying for deferred action once USCIS begins taking applications.

Who qualifies for deferred action under the DREAM Act?

Deferred action is for young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents or someone else such that it was not really their fault who are “low enforcement priorities” (basically meaning the person is not dangerous).  More specifically, the requirements state that to qualify, one must:

  • Have been under the age of 16 when they came to the United States;
  • Have been living in the US, continuously, for at least five years before June 15, 2012; also, they have to have actually been in the U.S. on June 15, 2012;
  • Not be over 30 years old;
  • Either: (a) be in school; (b) have graduated from high school; (c) have earned a GED; or (d) be veterans (only honorable discharges count) of the armed forces or Coast Guard of the US; and
  • Have not been found guilty of committing a felony, a misdemeanor that is considered “significant,” more than one misdemeanor, and generally not pose a threat to the public safety or national security.

If a person meets all five of those conditions they can qualify for deferred action, which means they will essentially not have to worry about being deported (or at least not for being in the United States unlawfully) for at least two years.  They can also likely get a work permit.  A grant of deferred action is valid for two years.  People can apply to renew the grant of deferred action at the end of the two-year period.

Does this mean the DREAM Act has been passed? 

No, it does not.  The policy change, directed by the Obama administration, essentially puts into practice the core aims of DREAM Act, but it is not the same thing as the DREAM Act.  The DREAM Act is a proposed law that aims to give legal US immigration status to individuals brought to the United States as a child, i.e., persons whose lack of legal status is not their own fault, and who meet certain other conditions.  The new immigration policy helps the same people the DREAM Act is intended to help, but does so in different – important – ways.  First, some versions of the DREAM Act, if passed as law, would provide a path to permanent residency and citizenship for people who qualify under the DREAM Act.  The “deferred action” approach announced by US immigration authorities does not lead to a green card or citizenship.

Secondly, the deferred action policy does not technically give a person “legal status,” but rather just assures that they will not be deported (unless they commit some other act that makes them removable).  Having legal status under the US immigration laws would be preferable; this is something the DREAM Act would do that the deferred action policy does not.  Finally, the policy change by the Department of Homeland Security, (the government agency responsible for immigration matters) is a result of executive order (i.e., presidential decree); while it meets some of the goals of the DREAM Act, it is not the same because it is not a law, meaning this policy could change if a new president comes into office or the Obama administration changes its approach to US immigration matters.

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