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Monday, December 23, 2013

Unauthorized Alien Students: Issues and "DREAM Act" Legislation - RL33863

Andorra Bruno
Specialist in Immigration Policy

Immigration reform has been hotly debated in recent years. Broadly construed, it encompasses a range of issues, including the highly controversial question of legalizing large numbers of unauthorized immigrants in the United States. A historically less controversial, more targeted legalization proposal has been included in the “DREAM Act,” legislation that seeks to enable certain unauthorized aliens who entered the United States as children to obtain legal immigration status. The name DREAM Act derives from the bill title, Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, but it refers more broadly to measures to provide immigration relief to unauthorized students, whether or not particular bills carry that name.

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 typically 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 111
th Congress, the House approved DREAM Act language as part of an unrelated bill, the Removal Clarification Act of 2010 (H.R. 5281). The Senate, however, failed 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 were again introduced in the 112th Congress.

In 2012, in the absence of congressional action on DREAM Act legislation, the Obama Administration announced that certain individuals who entered the United States as children and meet other criteria would be considered for relief from removal. Under a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memorandum, these individuals can apply for consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals (or DACA, as the program is known). Successful applicants are granted deferred action for two years, subject to renewal, and can apply for employment authorization.

DREAM Act legislation has been considered in the 113
th Congress as part of comprehensive immigration reform bills. The Senate-passed Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744) includes DREAM Act provisions. The same DREAM Act language is included in a related bill with the same name introduced in the House (H.R. 15). The DREAM Act provisions are integrated with the broader legalization provisions in these bills. As of this writing, no stand-alone DREAM Act bills have been introduced in the 113th Congress.

Date of Report: December 3, 2013
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: RL33863
Price: $29.95

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