Dream Act 2017 and the American Hope Act

Since he took office, President Donald Trump has wavered back and forth over what he will decide to do about the DACA program, which protects undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children.  During his campaign, he promised voters he intended to end the DACA program almost immediately upon taking office, but after 6 months in office, he has yet to make good on that promise. Earlier this summer, the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho Louisiana, Kansas, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatening to sue the federal government over DACA if Trump does not rescind it by September 5th.  Recently, Trump indicated that he would likely wait to decide what to do if DACA is challenged in court.

While the debate over DACA rages on, members of Congress are attempting to find other solutions and propose legislation to create a more permanent benefit to the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants living and growing up in the United States.

On July 26th, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced their version of a new Dream Act to Congress.  This act, dubbed Dream Act 2017 is a strong legislative solution that would allow young immigrants to pursue a path to legal permanent residency and eventually citizenship.  Much like the DACA program, applicants would be required to prove enrollment in school or completion of studies, and could be disqualified for certain criminal offenses.  Dream Act 2017 would differ by raising the age which the applicant must have entered the U.S. to 18 and require only 4 years of proof of physical presence in the U.S. prior to the date the law takes effect.  The most important difference, however, is that qualified applicants would be granted conditional permanent residence for a period of 8 years. Those already under DACA would automatically qualify for conditional status.  Conditions can be removed upon application after having at least 3 years in conditional status, maintaining U.S. residency, completion of educational requirements, and demonstration of basic English language comprehension.

That same week, on July 28th, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) introduced the American Hope Act of 2017, a bill that would also allow those with DACA and others who arrived in the United States as children a path to permanent legal status and citizenship.  Similar to the proposed Dream Act 2017, this bill would allow those who arrived in the U.S. before their 18th birthday to apply, but would only require proof of physical presence in the U.S. before December 31, 2016 to qualify. In addition, applicants must not have been convicted of violent crimes or be inadmissible due to terrorism concerns or certain other affiliations.  There are currently no educational requirements with this bill. If approved, applicants would receive conditional legal status for 8 years and allow them to apply for Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status after just 3 years.  For those who currently have DACA, the time in DACA will count towards time in conditional status for the purpose of removing conditions.

Both of these proposed bills would ultimately make it possible for qualified individuals to apply for and be granted U.S. citizenship.   

We believe that both pieces of legislation are a wonderful idea and provide great opportunity to those people brought here against their will as children.  These people have grown up here as American’s, many of them don’t even speak their native language or are not fluent.  They have been entirely educated in U.S schools and worked at American jobs producing income and revenue for our economy their entire lives and deserve a chance to become full citizens.  Unfortunately, the likelihood that either of these bills will ultimately pass in their entirety and become law under the current administration controlled by a Republican majority in Congress is slim.  The current climate of party-line politics prevents progressive, problem-solving bills like the two proposed here, from passing.  Time – and possibly the midterm elections in 2018 – will tell if any new, positive immigration reform is possible or if our current reality is something we must contend with for years to come.

Look at the people in your daily life and wonder where you, your family, and our economy would be without people like the DACA recipients – the high school kid who smiles and wishes you a good day in the drive through, the owner of your favorite neighborhood restaurant, the student working their way through medical school so that one day, they may save your life when you walk in complaining of chest pains.  We should be allowing these young people every possible opportunity at bettering themselves because when they do, it betters us ALL.  We do far more harm than good to our country when we choose to criminalize and punish such a large portion of our population that will now truly take up valuable resources in the time and funds it would take to detain, incarcerate, prosecute, and deport them.

FIND OUT WHERE YOU STAND!  You may already qualify for a benefit that you are not aware of yet.  If you have never talked to an immigration attorney about your situation before, now is the best time to do so – before the new administration starts making changes that may affect you and your family.  Contact an experienced, licensed attorney to find out what YOU can do to help your situation. If you would like our assistance, contact our office today at 210-932-3600 to set up a consultation.

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