The Ongoing Battle To Pass
The DREAM Act
Being an Riverside immigration attorney, I’m often asked about which, if any, immigration programs might pass this year.
Because I’ve met several outstanding young immigrant students, my answer is a little biased.
In reality, I’m actually skeptical that any type of immigration reform will take place in 2010.
The President has not exerted strong leadership on immigration issues. His public comments go back and forth between support and reluctance.
Even those in Congress, who pay lip service to reform, seem more concerned about winning re-election than in handling one of our nation’s most contentious issues.
All the while, immigration obstructionists are allowed nearly a free hand to spew misleading statistics, catchy but misguided slogans, and racially-charged hate messages.
But if I had to bet on what immigration program might pass this year, I’d place my bet on the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act: A Worthy Legislative Proposal
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act is a proposal to help undocumented immigrant children perhaps become U.S. citizens someday.
The DREAM Act is about choice.
Should immigrant youth be punished for the actions of their parents?
Of should they be given a chance to contribute to the United States?
Under the DREAM Act, there are no immediate rewards. There are no guarantees. Legalization must be earned.
For many immigration opponents, the DREAM Act is amnesty. Of course, in their misguided view, any positive measures are labeled as amnesty.
Amnesty, for them, is a buzz word, used to deny anyone who is undocumented any chance to earn lawful immigration status – regardless of their personal and family situations.
Legalization, on the other hand, recognizes that some undocumented immigrants should be allowed, if they can meet strict requirements over the course of several years, to earn lawful status in this country.
The DREAM Act is one such proposal.
It aims to help children brought to this country at an early age by their parents, and who have established strong ties to this country.
As a deportation and removal immigration lawyer, I have fought against unfair deportations for nearly two decades.
The matter of immigrant children like Omar and Anthony, two brothers who are doing everything right, being subject to the same set of harsh deportation rules is one of the cruelest aspects of immigration law.
Over the years, I’ve met several of these deserving immigrant students, living in various parts of Southern California, at my law offices in Hemet, Riverside, San Bernardino, Escondido, and San Diego.
My view goes beyond thinking the DREAM Act might be passed.
In my perspective, it should be passed.
The DREAM Act Reality: Not All Immigrant Students Qualify
Most of the public discussion on the DREAM Act has focused on students who are at the top of their classes.
At local schools – like California State University, San Bernardino, University of California at Riverside, and California State University, San Diego – the DREAM Act has received strong support from students, faculty, and administrators.
But there is another, quite disappointing side to the DREAM Act. Many immigrant students will not be able to meet the strict DREAM Act requirements.
A recent study conducted by the Migration Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, non-profit think tank dedicated to the study of the movement of people worldwide, noted that only 38% of the immigrant children, who might technically qualify for the DREAM Act, will attain legal immigration status.
Contrary to the arguments of immigration opponents, this study demonstrates that the DREAM Act is not a rubber stamp amnesty.
Although changes are still likely, here is the currently proposed process for the DREAM Act:
Immigrant children must show that they:
- entered the United States before they were 16 years old
- lived here for five years before the date when the DREAM Act becomes law -and on the date when the DREAM Act becomes law.
- graduated from a high school or earned a GED diploma, or have been accepted into an institution of higher education (i.e., college)
- must be between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time of application
- have not committed any crimes and possess good moral character.
Applicants will also need to pay a hefty penalty fee and demonstrate fluency in English. If they can fulfill these requirements, they will be granted conditional permanent residence for six years.
After the six-year period has ended, their cases will be reviewed by immigration officers again. This time, they will need to prove they:
- Successfully attended college or served in the armed forces for two years
- Maintained a record of good moral character
If, and only if, immigrant students have fulfilled these requirements, they will be allowed to become regular lawful permanent residents.
Last month, I received a call at my immigration law office and was asked to speak to local high school students. The opportunity was ideal to spread the word about the DREAM Act.
I told the students, many of them potential beneficiaries of the DREAM Act, as with all of our immigration programs, only the strongest survive.
Success is dependent on conditions such as long term residency, education, community service, and good moral character.
Only the most blind immigration opponents can call this amnesty. Nevertheless, they will try.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics