Illegal to legal immigration a DREAM: Federal legislation could lead to conditional citizenship for some

Arizona’s recent move to take immigration legislation into its own hands has probably scared most of the people it’s supposed to affect, but one long-existing act of federal legislation could provide a much less threatening solution for one group of undocumented immigrants – minors.

The latest big push for legislation by immigration groups has included attention-grabbing hunger strikes and a larger demonstration set to take place in Washington D.C. on July 19 and 21.

DREAM Act
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act would allow for immigrants that came to the United States with their parents before age 15 and have lived here for at least five years “conditional citizenship” status with a possible chance at permanent citizenship with the fulfillment of conditions. The conditional status would most likely affect immigrants between the ages of 12 and 35.

The DREAM act was first proposed in 2001 by Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Richard Durbin of Illinois, but has yet to find enough votes for passage despite bipartisan support for the act. Since its most recent reintroduction to legislature in 2009, the bill has a projected 52 yea votes out of 60 in the Senate and 162 yeas out of 218 in the house.

Conditional Americans
In addition to being in the U.S. as a child and for at least five years, the DREAM Act has several other conditions for achieving citizenship. The bill proposes a six-year conditional status for qualified individuals seeking citizenship. Persons seeking citizenship will need either a High School degree or GED from the United States or acceptance into a higher educational institution.  The person seeking citizenship will need to either serve 2 years in the United States military or achieve a viable college degree, or at least 2 years towards a bachelors degree. An individual can be disqualified if they fail to complete either of these conditions within the six years or are dishonorably discharged from the military.

Another more vague, but equally stressed, condition of the DREAM Act is having and maintaining “good moral character.” Current versions of the bill do not make explicit what that actually means, but it should be mostly related to compliance with U.S. law. After five and a half years of compliance with the conditional residency requirements, the beneficiaries would be able to apply for legal permanent residency in the United States.

As far as Utah is concerned, about 9.9 percent of the Hispanic population would be able to qualify for this kind of citizenship. That amounts to about one percent of the total individuals involved with conditional residency, according to analysis by the Migration Policy Institute. About 23,000 people would be able to qualify if the bill passed in Congress.

Can they actually do it?
Although the DREAM Act is quite appealing on paper for those seeking reform, it may not be as successful a tool for citizenship when considering the real life factors that could hinder ones path to citizenship.

“…[T]hree of the four cohorts of potential beneficiaries we identified would face serious –  and in a very large number of cases, insurmountable – challenges to achieving permanent status,” the Migration Policy Institute report  said. “If future behavior mirrors past trends, we project that approximately 38 percent … of the potential beneficiaries would actually achieve lawful permanent status under the legislation.”

The report cited factors such as income level and English proficiency as some of the bigger potential obstacles for many individuals.
The possibility of actually having an option for young people that really had no choice in coming to the United States, yet have grown up as Americans, seems to really outshine any of the realities that many of the potential recipients would face should the DREAM Act actually pass. The debate on whether this should become law has kept this bill from getting passed for nearly 10 years, but with recent actions taken by states, this may be the year something happens.

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