What is the DREAM Act?

Undocumented youth could become legal U.S. citizens under the DREAM Act. See more pictures of the American flag.
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As of 2008, about 612,000 undocumented youth had earned American high school diplomas or GEDs [source: Batalova and McHugh]. But even after making it through the secondary school system, their illegal status prevents all but a small fraction of that group from moving on to college, possibly stymieing their educational achievement, career paths and earning potential. This facet of the U.S. immigration debate that focuses on children who are brought into the country illegally by their parents' choice is a contentious one. Should the underage illegal immigrants growing up and moving through the American educational system be punished, deported or offered a chance at citizenship?

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, originally introduced in 2001 by Senators Dick Durbin (D.-Illinois) and Orin Hatch (R.-Utah), aims to incentivize educational achievement and encourage undocumented youth to pursue legal residency in the United States. Better known as the DREAM Act, the legislation would pave a pathway for undocumented immigrants toward legal U.S. residency via higher education or military participation, and also give them the opportunity to apply for legal permanent resident status.

Yet plenty of politicians aren't keen on the DREAM, as evidenced by its failure to pass through the House and the Senate to the President's desk. Despite persistent efforts to reintroduce the bill, slip it into other legislation and broker for votes, the DREAM Act has fallen short in Congress five times. In fact, in December 2010, the last time the DREAM Act was up for a Senate vote, Sen. Hatch declared that he'd be voting "no" on the legislation he co-sponsored almost a decade prior [source: Wong].

Though defeated yet again, the DREAM was revived once more when Senators Harry Reid (D.-Nevada) and Durbin brought it back to the congressional floor on May 11, 2011. At the same time, the bill's opponents remain adamant that the legislation is merely an amnesty program that would imperil, rather than secure, U.S. borders.