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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