News: Federal Policy & Advocacy

What NCAN Members Need to Know About House Democrats’ Immigration Plans

Wednesday, March 13, 2019  
Posted by: Jack Porter, Advocacy Associate
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Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have rolled out their highly anticipated plans to support immigrants who are undocumented and living in the U.S.

Reps. John Lewis (D-GA) and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) reintroduced the Higher Education Dream Act last month, which would help undocumented students pursue postsecondary education. Meanwhile, House Democratic leadership gathered yesterday to announce the introduction of a more comprehensive bill that extends beyond higher education, the Dream and Promise Act.

Since President Trump’s rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in September 2017, Congress has considered several proposals to protect so-called “Dreamers” – a term commonly used to describe individuals who came to the U.S. as minors and are not documented residents or citizens. Federal policymakers have been debating legislation to protect Dreamers intermittently since 2001, when the first DREAM Act was introduced.

Both of the measures introduced in the current Congress largely represent Democrats’ priorities, and would need approval from the Republican-controlled Senate as well as President Trump before going into effect.

Higher Education Dream Act (HR 1298)

The Higher Education Dream Act was reintroduced on Feb. 15 and has collected 39 cosponsors, all of whom are Democrats. Rep. Lewis introduced a similar bill last year, and both versions aim to protect Dreamers on their journey to and through higher education.

The protections offered under this bill would apply to students who were younger than 18 years old when they entered the U.S., including non-DACA recipients. Under HR 1298, Dreamers would be eligible for federal financial aid and in-state tuition rates. These provisions would effectively override state action such as that taken by the Arizona Supreme Court, which ruled last year that DACA recipients are ineligible for in-state tuition rates.

The legislation would also bar institutions from discriminating in the admissions process against students who are undocumented. This is an unfortunate reality in Rep. Lewis’ home state of Georgia, where DACA recipients are prohibited from attending the University of Georgia, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Georgia College, according to a press release from the congressman.

Dream and Promise Act (HR 6)

The Dream and Promise Act would allow Dreamers as well as individuals who received Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) to apply for permanent legal status in the U.S. Both TPS and DED provide protections for migrants fleeing a natural disaster or violent conflict in their home countries. Since the start of his administration, President Trump has ended these protections for migrants from Nicaragua, Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, and Liberia.

Under HR 6, TPS and DED recipients would immediately be allowed to apply for a green card. Five years thereafter, these individuals would be allowed to apply for citizenship.

Dreamers would be given 10 years of “conditional permanent residency” if they arrived as a minor, have received or are actively pursuing a high school diploma or GED, are able to pass a background check, and meet a few other requirements. Moreover, Dreamers who obtain this conditional status could apply for a green card if they are demonstrably on a path to or have earned a postsecondary degree, have been employed for at least three years, or served in the military for two years. Similar to HR 1298, Dreamers would be eligible for federal financial aid and protected from discrimination in the college admissions process.

Given the support Democratic leadership has shown for HR 6, it is likely the measure will be taken up by the House Judiciary Committee in the coming months. And just last week, Donald Graham of TheDream.US – an NCAN member – testified to the committee about the importance of supporting Dreamers in the college-going process. However, the momentum behind both HR 6 and HR 1298 will almost certainly stall in the Republican-controlled Senate.