The DREAM Act: Separating Myth from Fact

by Justin Draeger, NASFAA President

I have yet to have to sit down with someone who has been opposed to the DREAM Act, who after understanding what the bill would (and wouldn’t) provide to undocumented students, didn’t have a change of heart, if not a complete reversal in their original position. The Federal Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was first introduced in 2001 and re-introduced in both chambers of the 112th Congress in May 2011. The bill failed to pass in the 111th Congress, and while many consider its passage unlikely with the 112th Congress, Senate Democrats continue to move forward in the legislative process. Along the way, some misperceptions of the program have arisen. This article attempts to separate fact from fiction.

 MYTH: The DREAM Act grants automatic citizenship to illegal immigrants.

FACT: The DREAM Act is actually quite stringent and makes a bet on those most likely to be successful in this country. It only grants college-eligible students and military personnel (those who are willing to give their life defending our freedom) legal, conditional residency. After an additional six years they may attain permanent residency (not automatic citizenship). During their six-year conditional residency,  they must continue in college or receive an honorable discharge from the military before applying for citizenship.  They must also demonstrate “good moral character” as defined under immigration law, specifically by registering for Selective Service (if male), not committing criminal acts, not providing false information in documents, and not falsely claiming U.S. citizenship.

MYTH: The DREAM Act is a disguised “amnesty” program and flaunts current law.

FACT: It is not a disguised amnesty program. Amnesty is defined as a legislative or executive act by which a state restores those who are guilty of an offense to the position of “innocent.” By definition, DREAM-eligible students were all children—sometimes infants—when they were brought to this country. They committed no crime for which they must be absolved, in that they almost always had no control over their arrival in the US. While it is true that these DREAM-eligible young people are not currently protected by federal law, it is also true that the laws of our country – particularly on immigration – are not static, but are designed to change over time to meet the needs of our country.

MYTH: The DREAM Act takes scarce student aid dollars from the programs we are already struggling to pay for and gives them to noncitizens:

FACT: DREAMers would only be eligible for Federal Work Study and federal student loans. They would not qualify for gift aid, such as Pell Grants or FSEOG.

MYTH: The DREAM Act costs taxpayers money.

FACT: In fact, DREAM would save money. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that enacting the bill would reduce deficits by about $1.4 billion from 2011 to 2020. That result reflects an increase in on-budget deficits of about $1.4 billion over that period and a decrease in off-budget deficits of about $2.8 billion over the same period.

Researchers at UCLA’s North American Integration and Development Center estimate that if 825,000 undocumented youths obtain legal status under the DREAM Act, they would generate $1.4 trillion in income over a 40-year period.

In addition, the perception that illegal immigrants come here, commit crimes, and cost taxpayers’ money for incarceration simple does not hold true, statistically. The Brookings Institute found that the foreign-born share of our population now shows zero relationship to property crime, and a negative relationship to violent crime. The pattern is most pronounced for primary cities and inner-ring suburbs, but not for lower-density suburbs and ex-urbs.

MYTH:  Passage of the DREAM Act would create a “magnet effect,” with more illegal immigrants flocking to the US to find a subsidized education.

FACT: Actually, illegal immigration is down across the country, even in states that have passed a version of the DREAM Act.  Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton, recently reported that interest in heading to the United States for the first time had fallen to its lowest level since at least the 1950s, even in states that have passed their own “DREAM Acts.”

 “No one wants to hear it, but the flow has already stopped,” Mr. Massey said in the New York Times, referring to illegal traffic. “For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative.”  Why? In simple terms, Mexican families are smaller than they had once been. The pool of likely migrants is shrinking. The unauthorized immigrant population of the United States has grown significantly in the past two decades.  In 1990, there were a reported 3.5 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S, a number that more than doubled at the turn of the century to 8.4 million and peaked at 12 million in 2007 (Passel and Cohn, 2010).  The most recent estimates indicate that 11.2 million undocumented immigrants currently reside in the U.S., marking a halt to the temporary decline witnessed in the years following its peak (Passel and Cohn, 2010).

MYTH: The DREAM Act is part of the left-wing political agenda.

FACT: The DREAM Act has traditionally had bipartisan support. Originally submitted in the Senate by leading Republican and one-time Republican presidential hopeful Orrin Hatch, it had 18 additional co-sponsors from both political parties.

Former Republican Texas Governor and President George W. Bush supported the DREAM Act, and current conservative Texas Governor Rick Perry is a supporter. “To punish these young Texans for their parents’ actions is not what America has always been about,” Perry told the New Hampshire Union Leader in his first New Hampshire interview of the 2012 campaign cycle.

In 2007 the DREAM Act was altered modestly by amendment and garnered more than a quarter of all Republican support. Since that time, support for the bill has divided along party lines and fallen victim, as many issues have, to political gridlock.

2 thoughts on “The DREAM Act: Separating Myth from Fact

  1. Hopeful but concerned

    My biggest concern is with the second myth/fact pairing. While it is true that those who were brought here as children most likely did not have a say in their entry to the U.S., this pairing (and any discussions about it) typically ignores the fact that this Act applies to military-/college-age people…folks now well capable of choosing for themselves to remain here illegally instead of following already established means of gaining legal residence/citizenship/naturalization. Given that the first myth/fact pair states that they must “not commit any crimes,” I would say that everyone fails this test as they have chosen to remain here illegally.

    It took me all of 10 seconds to search the internet for “how to become a US Citizen” to find a link to the USCIS.gov website that details the necessary steps. And to state as fact that this will not cost money is a tad optimistic, given that the CBO assumption is that, once they graduate from college/military service that the money they earn will remain in the United States.

  2. Linda Parr

    ……I am looking for the guidelines showing what happens to the parents, grandparents, of these “illegal” students. Where do I find those guidelines? Once the students are “given” a US Citizenship for their hard work of going to high school, college and/or into our military , what happens to the parents who are living here as illegals? Are they deported? And please do not boohoo and say that the family cannot be broken up in that manner. How do illegals make that much money to send their children to college when many US born citizens cannot afford to do this? Do they receive grant money? If someone loves this country and the freedom it offers, then they should speak English and apply for a US Citienship like my grandparents did!

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