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Monday, July 2, 2012

Unauthorized Alien Students: Issues and “DREAM Act” Legislation


Andorra Bruno
Specialist in Immigration Policy

The 109th and 110th Congresses considered, but did not enact, comprehensive immigration reform legislation that included large-scale legalization programs for unauthorized aliens. In the aftermath of these unsuccessful efforts, some interested parties have urged the President and Congress to pursue more limited legislation to address the status of unauthorized alien students. Such legislation is commonly referred to as the “DREAM Act.”

Unauthorized aliens in the United States are able to receive free public education through high school. They may experience difficulty obtaining higher education, however, for several reasons. Among these reasons is a provision enacted in 1996 that prohibits states from granting unauthorized aliens certain postsecondary educational benefits on the basis of state residence, unless equal benefits are made available to all U.S. citizens. This prohibition is commonly understood to apply to the granting of “in-state” residency status for tuition purposes. Unauthorized alien students also are not eligible for federal student financial aid. More broadly, as unauthorized aliens, they are not legally allowed to work and are subject to being removed from the country.

Multiple DREAM Act bills have been introduced in recent Congresses to address the unauthorized student population. Most have proposed a two-prong approach of repealing the 1996 provision and enabling some unauthorized alien students to become U.S. legal permanent residents (LPRs) through an immigration procedure known as cancellation of removal. While there are other options for dealing with this population, this report deals exclusively with the DREAM Act approach in light of the considerable congressional interest in it.

In the 111th Congress, the House approved DREAM Act language as part of an unrelated bill, the Removal Clarification Act of 2010. However, the Senate failed, on a 55-41 vote, to invoke cloture on a motion to agree to the House-passed DREAM Act amendment and the bill died at the end of the Congress. The House-approved language differed in key respects from earlier versions of the DREAM Act.

Bills to legalize the status of unauthorized alien students (S. 952, H.R. 1842, H.R. 3823) have again been introduced in the 112th Congress. It is unclear, however, whether any of these measures will be considered.

On June 15, 2012, the Obama Administration announced that certain individuals who were brought to the United States as children and meet other criteria would be considered for relief from removal. Under a memorandum issued by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on that date, these individuals would be eligible for deferred action for two years, subject to renewal, and could apply for employment authorization.


Date of Report: June 19, 2012
Number of Pages: 29
Order Number: RL33863
Price: $29.95

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