Since 2001, the United States Congress has seen introduced at least eleven bill versions of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (Dream) Act or “Dream Act,” which if enacted would protect from deportation and provide a path to citizenship for certain immigrants who have come to the United States as children. Currently, two bills are pending in Congress – S.264, the Dream Act of 2021, introduced February 4, 2021 by Senators Durbin and Graham; and H.R.6, the Dream and Promise Act of 2021, introduced March 3, 2021 by Representative Roybal-Allard. Both bills contain a three-step process for certain undocumented high school graduates and GED® recipients to obtain U.S. citizenship.
Step 1: Conditional Permanent Residence
An individual would be eligible to obtain a newly defined conditional permanent resident (CPR) status, which includes work authorization, if the person has either been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status or meets all of the following requirements:
came to the United States as a child (18 or younger for H.R. 6; under 18 for S. 264).
has been admitted to an institution of higher education, has graduated high school or obtained a GED, or is currently enrolled in secondary school or a program assisting students to obtain a high school diploma or GED.
has not participated in the persecution of another person; and
has not been convicted of certain specified crimes.
Under both bills the Secretary of Homeland Security may issue waivers of certain criminal offenses for humanitarian purposes, for family unity, or when the waiver is otherwise in the public interest. CPR status would last eight years under S. 264 and ten years under H.R. 6, extendable by the Secretary of Homeland Security.
Step 2: Lawful Permanent Residence (LPR or “Green Card”) Status
An individual who has CPR status could obtain LPR status, which is provided under current law, by satisfying one of the following requirements:
higher education – the person has acquired a degree from an institution of higher education or has completed at least two years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor’s degree or higher degree in the U.S.;
military service – the person has completed at least 2 years of U.S. military service with an honorable discharge, if discharged; or
work – the person can demonstrate employment in the U.S. over a total period of three years and at least 75 percent of that time they had employment authorization, with exceptions for those time periods of enrollment in higher education or technical school.
Individuals who cannot meet one of these requirements could apply for a “hardship waiver” if the applicant is a person with a disability; is a full-time caregiver; or for whom removal would cause extreme hardship to them or a spouse, parent or child who is a US national or has LPR status.
Step 3: Naturalization
Upon maintaining LPR status for five years, an individual can then apply for U.S. citizenship through processes that exist under current immigration law.
H.R. 6 contains broader provisions that would result in CPR eligibility for more individuals. For example, H.R. 6 applies to an individual who has been continuously present in the U.S. after January 1, 2021, while S. 264 applies to people who have been continuously present in the U.S. only for four years prior to bill enactment. The disqualifying criminal history is more restrictive in S. 264. Nevertheless, either bill – or a mix of the two bills – would bring opportunities for lawful residence and eventual citizenship to more than 2 million undocumented individuals currently residing in the U.S.