SECTION I: Dream Act and Deferred Action

What is the Dream Act?

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) was first introduced in Congress in 2001. Since then it has been reintroduced and modified numerous times. In 2013, the DREAM Act was incorporated into the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S.744). However, the DREAM act has not been approved (National Immigration Law Center, 2013). The DREAM Act would offer a path to legalization for immigrants between the ages of 12 to 30, upon meeting certain requirements. The requirements are:

  • Being in the United States since before age 16;
  • Having good moral character;
  • Residing in United States territory for five consecutive years, and;
  • Graduating from high school, having a GED, or being enrolled in a higher education institution (Corrunker, 2012; Schmid, 2013).

After meeting these requirements, students will be eligible for a “conditional lawful permanent resident status,” during which they can work, go to school, or join the military. The conditional status will be removed after six years as long as students complete two years in a bachelor’s degree program or a higher degree or serve for two years in any branch of the armed forces. Thus, the DREAM Act would offer a path to legal status and, eventually, to citizenship to students who qualify (Immigration Policy Center, 2011).

Since the first introduction of the DREAM Act, some states have enacted state laws to address the status of undocumented students. According to the National Immigration Law Center (2013), presently 16 states–California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington–have enacted laws that allow undocumented students admission to college as in-state students. In Rhode Island, the Board of Governors for Higher Education approved the provision of in-state tuition to undocumented students.

While the DREAM Act would not make the students eligible for federal education grants, it will make them eligible for federal work study and students loans. Also, the DREAM act will allow states to provide financial aid to eligible students (National Immigration Law Center, 2011).

For more information on DREAM Act visit:;

Who are the Dreamers?

The term DREAMER (soñadores) derives from the acronym of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act or DREAM Act. The DREAMERS are the undocumented students who, as children, were brought to the country by their parents without a legal residency permit or a valid resident visa. Some of these children came by crossing the US borders; others came with a temporary visa that had expired.

Many of these children came as young children; they have been educated as American citizens. Although many are bilingual, the majority identifies English as their first language, and while bi-cultural, they identify as Americans.

All immigrant children, independently of their immigrant status, are entitled to free public education from Kindergarten to grade 12. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that public education cannot be denied to children in elementary and secondary school. However, there are no provisions allowing their access to post-secondary education (Schmid, 2013).


According to Roberto G. Gonzales (2011), a scholar who has studied extensively the experiences of undocumented students, many immigrant students come to the realization of their undocumented status during high school. Developmentally, the teenage years are a time when adolescents learn to drive, get their first job or start their college plans. However, for undocumented youths these normative activities are denied. In general, some of the obstacles that the lack of documentation brings to these students are:

  • Inability to get a legitimate job;
  • Inability to obtain a driver’s license;
  • Inability to access financial aid to pay for higher education;
  • Inability to open a bank account or establish any kind of credit record;
  • Ineligibility for federal health care programs;
  • Inability to travel abroad; and
  • Even if undocumented students are able to get a college degree, their status bars them from getting a job in their field of study.

While federal law does not prohibit the enrollment of undocumented students into higher education institutions, it does prohibit the awarding of financial aid and publicly funded scholarships (Gonzales, 2009; Pérez, 2012). Thus, in many states, undocumented students are considered international or out-of-state, which makes their tuition three or more times higher than an in-state student’s.

Gonzales (2009) explains that the realization of undocumented status creates a number of feelings and reactions in the students. Many of them experience “anger, confusion, frustration and despair generally followed by a period of paralyzing shock” (p. 610). In addition, the realization of what their illegal status mean for their adulthood comes as a second shock. Some students become disillusioned and may abandon their future plans, instead focusing on adjustment to their new coming of age with undocumented status. Others, despite the challenges, decide to press on and try to find ways to finance their education.

In summary, the undocumented status of young people affects their personal development, the achievement of their future goals, as well as the prospects of their adulthood.


In June 2012, the Obama administration announced the implementation of the “Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals” program. This program will allow temporary stay in the United States for individuals who qualify. Under this program, individuals will be able to obtain a work permit that it is renewable after two years (National Immigration Law Center, 2013). However, this is a temporary action, and it does not lead to permanent residency or citizenship.

In order to benefit from this program, the individual needs to meet the following criteria:

  • Have been born on or after June 16, 1981;
  • Have been younger than 16 upon arrival to the United States;
  • Have continuously lived in the United States since June 15, 2007;
  • Have been present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 and every day since August 15, 2012;
  • Have been undocumented prior to June 15, 2012;
  • Be in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or any of the armed forces;
  • No felony charges on record;
  • No major misdemeanor and fewer than three general misdemeanor charges on record;
  • Not be a threat towards security of the U.S or public safety; and
  • Pass a background check.

Deferred action is granted on a case-by-case basis. Thus, it is important to consult with a lawyer. DACA offers undocumented youths the ability to temporarily work legally and become financially more stable. However, it does not qualify them for educational federal grants or in-state tuition. In-state tuition depends on each state’s laws or higher education institutions.

For more information about DACA visit:

USCIS DACA toolkit: comprehensive guide to DACA from the US Citizenship and Immigration Service that includes step-by-step instructions, tips, FAQs, and a listing of additional government resources.
National Immigration Law Center
Immigration Policy Center


Corrunker, L. (2012). “Coming out of the shadows”: Dream act activism in the context of global anti-deportation activism. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, 39(1), 143- 168.

Gonzales, R. G. (2009). Young lives on hold: The college dreams of undocumented students. College Board Advocacy. Retrieved from

Gonzales, R. G. (2011). Learning to be illegal: Undocumented youth and shifting legal contexts in the transition to adulthood. American Sociological Review, 76(4), 602-619. doi: 10.1177/ 0003122411411901

National Immigration Law Center (2013). Basic facts about in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant students. Retrieved from National Immigration Center website:

Pérez, W. (2012). Americans by heart: Undocumented Latino students and the promise of higher education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Schmid, C. L. (2013). Undocumented childhood immigrants, the Dream act and deferred action for childhood arrivals in the USA. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 33(11/12), 693-707.

Immigration Direct: U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Form Services – Simplifying Immigration

United We Dream – information about DACA, find legal help, and other resources

National Education Association brochure: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Back to School Guide for Educators

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