What is the DREAM Act?

Undocumented Youth and the DREAM Act

Immigrant students rally in Washington, D.C., for the passage of the DREAM Act.
Immigrant students rally in Washington, D.C., for the passage of the DREAM Act.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

With an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States, the pool of potential DREAM Act recipients is sizeable. A 2010 study from the Migration Policy Institute estimated that about 2.1 million undocumented youth would be eligible to apply for the citizenship program [source: Batalova and McHugh]. However, barriers to entry including low educational achievement, poor English skills and poverty would slash the number of potential DREAMers down to 825,000 [source: Batalova and McHugh]. For instance, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Department of Homeland Security would charge DREAM applicants $700 to process and grant their conditional resident status, not to mention the added expense of attending college [source: Congressional Budget Office].

As the DREAM Act cycles through Congress again, some states, including California, New York and Maryland, have introduced their own versions of the DREAM Act to extend in-state tuition to undocumented students. And amid the political debates, a small minority of undocumented immigrants is already attending college. According to data from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, roughly 3,250 to 6,500 undocumented high schoolers proceed to higher education [source: Miranda]. One such person who graduated from an American college and has emerged as a prominent voice in the DREAM Act debate is Jose Antonio Vargas. In a confessional story in The New York Times magazine, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist described the lies and forged documented that he had to wield in order to move through high school to college and into the working world at the Washington Post and Huffington Post as an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines [source: Vargas].

If the DREAM Act had passed in 2001, Vargas could've attended college with a conditional permanent resident status and by now have applied to become a legal U.S. resident. But the journalist remains undocumented, and the next-best option his immigration lawyers have presented involves returning to the Philippines for 10 years, then coming back to the United States. Armed with a powerful pen and influential friends, Vargas' undocumented existence seems a far cry from thousands of teens who have demonstrated in recent years in favor the passing the legislation -- and have been subsequently arrested and deported as a result. Perhaps this time around, their dream might come true -- if Senators Reid and Durbin can rally the 60 votes necessary to get the bill on President Obama's desk to sign before the 112th Congress adjourns in January 2013. But after 10 years of legislative limbo, the DREAM Act may never become a reality.

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