Will the DREAM Act become a law?

by Lori Clark, director, NIU Federal Relations

Lori Clark
Lori Clark

The United States Congress has been discussing the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act since it was first introduced in 2001. Even with bipartisan support, it has never managed to pass out of both chambers of Congress, despite changes to the bill designed to address various concerns. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act by a vote of 216-198, and it now moves to the Senate where it should be heard this week.

The DREAM Act is a limited and targeted bill that will allow only the best and brightest young people to earn legal status after a rigorous and lengthy process. It applies only to those young people who were brought illegally to the United States by their parents as minors, through no fault of their own.

Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin has been a longtime sponsor of this legislation, and Northern Illinois University has been a proponent of the DREAM Act, as well as Illinois’ efforts that resulted in Public Act 93-0007, the provisions of which have been incorporated into our Board of Trustees regulations (Section IV, Sub-Section D-12). Illinois is one of nine states that have passed legislation to provide in-state tuition to undocumented students.

The DREAM Act is not intended to replace a broader national policy on the issue of illegal immigration. Rather, it seeks to provide a legal path to citizenship for talented young people. Providing legal status for young people who have a proven record of success in the United States should be a boon to the economy and the U.S. workforce, helping to boost the number of high-skilled, American-raised workers.

The legislation provides very specific provisions on who is eligible to participate (those 29 and younger, who were brought illegally to the United States by their parents before the age of 16 and who have lived here for five years immediately preceding the date of enactment of the DREAM Act), and it does not grant legal permanent resident status to anyone for at least 10 years. There are further requirements that the individual also must complete two years of higher education or military service, pay back taxes, demonstrate the ability to read, write and speak English, and demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, principles and form of government of the United States.

Even with bipartisan support, there is still doubt as to whether there will be enough votes in the Senate to pass the DREAM Act. President Obama has indicated his strong support for the bill, so if it passes, he will likely sign it into law quickly. We will watch for any activity in the Senate and keep you apprised of any new developments.

Lori Clark came to NIU in 2005 after a 28-year career in Illinois government, 27 years of which were spent in at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs and its successor agency, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

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