We used to hear frequently about Dreamers. They are usually described as immigrants who were brought into the country illegally at an early age (“as infants,” some say) by their parents and only know the U.S.A. as their homeland.
There was immediate bipartisan sympathy for these youths called Dreamers when the idea of legalizing them was first proposed by a Congressional coalition headed by Orin Hatch (R-UT) and his good friend Ted Kennedy (D-MA). Americans didn’t like the fact that because of their illegal immigration status, these young adults who had grown up in America could not get a job nor fulfill their dreams of going to college –and they could be deported at any time.
In June 2012, President Obama issued an executive memo that allowed specific Dreamers who were secondary school graduates with plans of going to college to apply individually for a temporary program that would defer them from deportation and give them a work permit. It was known as DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Some 900,000 signed up. Latino leaders at the time credited DACA for securing Obama the Latino vote and his second term in office. It was expected that Obama would soon get Congress to pass a much broader Dream Act that would legalize some 2 million young adult immigrants living in the U.S. without legal authorization.
But the Dream Act never passed, despite multiple attempts by Democrats to attach it to various “must pass” bills. It was even included in the bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill passed in the Senate in June of 2013 but was refused to be considered by House leaders. Curiously, a month later, on July 23, 2013, Democrats unanimously voted against a Republican congressional initiative to pass a DACA stand-alone bill called the “Kids” Act. Now, at the end of 2023, the inclusion of any proposal to permanently legalize Dreamers (now numbering an estimated 4 million) has been declared DOA in the funding bill for Ukraine and Israel, even though Republicans are insisting that that urgent bill include immigration elements.
So what happened to the Dreamers? Why hasn’t a Dream Act ever passed despite clear bipartisan sympathy?
It seems to be a case of a legislative proposal “too good to be true” and, for a very sympathetic media, a story “too good to be fact-checked.” Its bipartisan sympathy is coveted by every interest group who spins it to their needs. But DACA/Dreamers are not what they are marketed to be. That market version is being used as a bait and switch for other agendas by all sides — by Democrats for comprehensive immigration reform and by Trump Republicans for stricter immigration enforcement.
Rampant misinformation about Dreamers starts with the definition: Not one of the words of the universally used definition” “brought into the country illegally at a young age by their parents” exists in any of the Dream Act proposals and the three-page 2012 DACA executive memo. The official definition of a Dreamer is anyone who came to the United States under the age of 16. Senator Dick Durban’s Dream Act of 2021 upped it to age 18. There is no “brought in” by anyone; no entered “illegally” — although Dreamers need to be in “unauthorized” status when they apply.
Dreamers in the 2021 Dream Act only need to have been in the country for two years to be eligible. Hence, Dreamers would now include the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors (UAMs), most of whom were 15-17-year-old males when they surged into the country in the last six years. Dreamers now don’t have to have graduated from high school. There are no requirements to know any English. Lying about one’s age results in a minor punishment.
The Dream Act has evolved from a popular idea to legalize some youths who had been living in the country most of their lives as unauthorized immigrants to a law to legalize any migrant minor who had lived here for two years. The current Dream Act also could become a strong incentive for those who came in on temporary legal visas to overstay – the largest source of illegal immigration today – with the reward of a green card.
Giving an expedited green card that leads to citizenship to young immigrants who truly were brought in illegally as small children and only know the U.S. as their home seems fair. It’s up to Congress to decide.
Margaret (Peggy Sands) Orchowski Ph.D, is the credentialed Senior Congressional Correspondent for the Hispanic Outlook since 2007, and the senior news correspondent for The Georgetowner since 2016. She is the author of “The Law That Changed The Face of America: The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965″ and “Immigration and the American Dream: Battling the Political Hype and Hysteria” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015 and 2008 respectively). She was a 2021 Journalism on Aging Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America and writes a regular column “Silver Cities” for the Georgetowner and other publications.