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When adults immigrate to the United States, they might be able to apply for legal residency and eventually citizenship depending on their immigration status. When children immigrate, however, their immigration status depends upon their parents' status. If their parents immigrated without authorization, then their children, like the parents, can be deported.


To address this circumstance, the proposed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) in Congress would allow young people who arrived as undocumented children to apply for legal residency. To qualify, applicants would have to meet the following requirements:

  1. Have a GED or degree from a U.S. high school. (In the Senate version of the bill, applicants would also have to be under 30 years old when they apply.)
  2. Have arrived in the United States when they were 15 years old or younger.
  3. Have demonstrated good moral character.
  4. Have lived continuously in the United States for at least five years prior to the enactment of the law.

If they meet these requirements, the DREAM Act would grant the applicants a six-year temporary residency. During this six-year period, applicants would have to either complete at least two years of college or serve in the military. After successfully fulfilling their obligations during the six-year period, they could apply for permanent residency.

Congress has considered the bill several times since the first version in 2003, but it has never passed. A majority in the Senate voted against the law in October 2007. Most recently, it was included as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2010. A Senate filibuster prevented a vote on the bill. It has also never been brought to a vote in the House.

Pros and Cons

Supporters of the act argue that each year around 65,000 undocumented children graduate from high school. Their parents or other adults brought them to this country. They have spent most of their lives in the United States. Their lives are virtually the same as those of young people who are native citizens. According to the National Immigration Law Center, undocumented immigrant students include "honor roll students, star athletes, talented artists, homecoming queens, and aspiring teachers, doctors, and U.S. soldiers." Therefore, it is a flaw that U.S. immigration law would punish these immigrant children for the actions of their parents.

Opponents of the act argue that it is a form of "backdoor amnesty" for undocumented immigrants who bring their children with them. Because a naturalized U.S. citizen can sponsor his or her parents for a green card (permanent residency), critics say that the DREAM Act just adds a new path for immigrants to use their children to make their status legal. According to Kris W. Kobach of the Heritage Foundation, the DREAM Act is really a "massive amnesty." Another criticism is that the DREAM Act allows undocumented immigrant minors to receive in-state tuition rates at public universities, putting U.S. citizens from other states at an unfair disadvantage.


For Discussion

  1. What problem is the DREAM Act intended to resolve?
  2. What are the main arguments for and against the DREAM Act?

Teachers, get a lesson plan on the DREAM Act.


The most recent version introduced in the Senate

The most recent version introduced in the House