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The DREAM Act: Immigration Reform, Not Immigration Amnesty


Immigration reform news is in the air again.

According to political pundits, news reporters, community activists, and even government officials, immigration reform will be addressed by the administration and Congress later this year.

For many immigrant children, trapped between a rock and a hard place, serious policy . discussions cannot begin soon enough.  The DREAM Act, a proposal to create a path to permanent residence for these children, will be a topic of intense political debate.

Why Immigrant Children Should Be Given A Path To Permanent Residence

Of course, die-hard opponents of immigration reform believe that all undocumented immigrants, including children, are undeserving of pathways to legalization.

I disagree.

They never met Omar and Anthony.

I first met the two brothers a few months ago, when they visited my Hemet immigration law office with their parents. Omar, a high school senior, was getting ready for graduation. Anthony was a junior. Their parents sought direction about their children’s future.

On paper, Omar and Anthony were All American kids.


Both were “A” students. Both had won several scholastic and good behavior awards throughout elementary, middle, and high school. Both played sports. Omar was the school’s best swimmer. Anthony played tennis.

A year before, Omar had won third place in a regional essay writing contest. Omar was senior class president. Omar hoped to go to college and then earn an advanced degree from a divinity school.

Anthony was junior class president and planned to run for ASB president. Anthony was a math whiz. Since he had gained enough credits to graduate by mid-year, he had decided to enroll in a local junior college the following spring. He wanted to get a head start on higher level calculus classes. Anthony’s goal was to become a research scientist.

Despite their impeccable resumes, a major item was missing – legal documents to live in the United States.

They were brought here at an early age when their parents entered the country without permission. Omar was 5 years old; Anthony was only 3. They believed that hard work, good behavior, and good grades would open doors of opportunity.

Instead, with graduation nearing, Omar had nowhere to turn. And Anthony was right behind him. Their dreams of going to college and becoming contributing members of society were not possible.

As an immigration family unification lawyer, I can attest their situation reflects the reality of immigration law today. As a guest speaker at church conferences, community forums, and local civic and school event, I have met many immigrant youth in similar circumstances.

Instead of being the brightest day of their lives, Graduation Day is like a dark cloud hanging over their heads.

They deserve better.

These children, brought here at an early age by their parents, lack legal papers. They had no input in their parents’ decision. Their memories of a distant birth place are blurs.

The United States is their home – but they are here illegally.

They have done their best in school. Many are high achievers. After high school, their futures are limited. They cannot work. They cannot go to college. They cannot join the service.

Their past haunts, their future taunts.

For these young immigrants, the DREAM Act will be the most important topic in the next comprehensive immigration reform and control bill.

What Is The DREAM Act?

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act is a proposal to help immigrant children, brought to the United States at an early age, by providing a pathway to permanent residence.

Step 1 of the DREAM Act Process

Under the current proposal, the DREAM Act has two steps. To qualify, 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
  • 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.

Step 2 of the DREAM Act Process

After the six-year period has ended, their cases will be reviewed by immigration officers again. This time, they will need to prove that during the six-year period, they:

  • Successfully attended college or served in the armed forces for two years
  • Maintained a record of good moral character

If, and only if, they have fulfilled these requirements, they will be allowed to become regular lawful permanent residents.

Opponents assert the legislation is a form of blanket amnesty.

They’re wrong.

The DREAM Act Is Not Immigration Amnesty

DREAM Act opponents say the proposal would immediately reward immigrant children with conditional lawful permanent resident status – and, in just a few years, they would become U.S. citizens.

Their criticisms do not reflect how immigration agencies operate.

There are no shortcuts provided by the DREAM Act.

Lawful permanent resident status is only granted if applicants meet certain requirements over an 11 year period.  And during a six-year period of conditional resident status, they must demonstrate not only a record of good moral character, but also successful completion of at least two years of service in the armed forces or attendance at a college.

In short, under the DREAM Act, conditional lawful residence is not guaranteed.


Permanent Residence For Dreamers Is An Opportunity, Not A Guarantee

As any family unity immigration attorney will tell you, almost all visa petition and green card immigration programs suffer severe backlogs.

It is not uncommon for a law to be passed today, go into effect six months later – yet take another year for the new forms to be approved by the Department of Homeland Security. And once an immigrant files the paperwork, it sometimes takes another 3-5 years before the interview is scheduled.

Under the DREAM Act, even conditional lawful residence is not guaranteed.

There are four criteria for success at the first stage: age, long term residency, education, and good moral character. In our post 9/11 world, no immigration officer is going to grant an application without solid evidence that each requirement is fulfilled.

Moreover, even if an immigrant youth is granted conditional residence, it does not mean they will win permanent residence at the second stage.

Once immigrant children earn conditional residence, they start a six-year waiting period. They must keep their noses clean, go to college, or serve in the military. They must earn their legal status.

The college and military requirements helps ensure the U.S. recoups their investment in these children. The goal is that DREAM Act immigrants will find a good-paying job, contribute to their communities, and pay their fair share of taxes.

After they become permanent residents, they are still subject to losing their lawful status and being sent back to their birth country.

It is not clear how soon after immigrant children earn permanent residency they will be allowed to apply to become U.S. citizens. Under the current proposal, the waiting period is five years after becoming a lawful permanent resident. The citizenship process also has many strict requirements.

Under the DREAM Act, there are no immediate rewards. There are no guaranteed rewards. Legalization must be earned.

And the political process is not over.

Many of the exact details still need to be worked out.

It would not be surprising that when the DREAM ACT becomes reality, the current proposal looks quite different than the version passed. More likely than not, the end product will be stricter.

A Child’s Chance At Legal Residency:
Light At The End Of The Tunnel?

For several years, as an immigration green card attorney, I have watched immigrant youth suffer in quiet.

Many of them were brought here at an early age, some before they were old enough to recall the day they entered the United States.  They were too young to have any input in their parents’ decision. Most have no memories of their birth place.

All have limited prospects for the future. They are foreigners in their birth country. They are illegally present in the country they call home.

The DREAM Act debate is a national debate, reflecting the soul of our country.

Ultimately, it will be up to all Americans to decide whether DREAM Act children deserve the chance to become lawful residents or not.

I believe, for innocent and deserving immigrant children like Omar and Anthony, they will be provided with a light of deserved opportunity at the end of the tunnel.


Ready to take a serious and honest look at the strengths and weaknesses of your immigration case? Let’s get started with a personalized strategy and planning session . . .