The DREAM Act
Undocumented youth continue the push forward to realize their DREAMs
Currently, there are between 1i million to 2.1ii million minors in the United States who are subject to deportation because their parents brought them to the U.S. without legal permission as children. Higher education is very often foreclosed to them due to federal law that excludes undocumented students from in-state tuition - even when they have lived all of their lives in that state.iii Without in-state tuition, young immigrants and their families often cannot afford higher education. Even if a young immigrant finds a way to pay for college, his or her post-graduation job prospects are often seriously limited due to immigration status. Many of these students live in constant fear of detention and deportation from the immigration authorities.
Education is a human right, and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights. All children, without discrimination of any kind, including on the basis of their status or the status of their parents, have a right to education as guaranteed under the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.i Amnesty International stands in solidarity with the DREAM coalitions and supports the DREAM Act because it protects and promotes human rights, including the right to education, the right to be free from discrimination, and the right to family life and unity.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, most recently introduced in 2011, is tailored to a narrow population of student immigrants in the United States who arrived as children, have grown up here, and consider the U.S. home. The DREAM Act would provide conditional legal status to students who finish high school and attend college or serve in the military for at least two years. If these young immigrants prove to have good moral character and complete the requirements of the law, after 10 years they will have the opportunity to permanently legalize their status.
Although the DREAM Act has been introduced in Congress repeatedlyii over the past dozen years, most recently introduced in Congress in 2011, and has enjoyed bi-partisan support, the bill has yet to pass. In his most recent State of the Union speech on 25 January 2012, President Barack Obama acknowledged the divisive issue of immigration in US politics, but implored Congress to "... at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, defend this country. Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away." iii Meanwhile, opponents of the bill fan the flames of anti-immigrant sentiment, claiming the bill should be vetoed, as it will reward "illegal behavior."
Under U.S. civil and criminal law, minors benefit from a range of protections, yet the U.S. government continues to penalize immigrant youth for a decision that was likely made for them: being brought to the United States as children. Individuals who are detained for immigration purposes, including young immigrants, are held under administrative detention, however many are housed in criminal facilities, transferred multiple times from facility to facility and often moved to facilities far away from their families and legal advocates (if they are fortunate enough to have legal representation). Due process issues also may arise while in detention, as immigrants are pressured to sign deportation papers. Finally, since many undocumented children live in mixed status families where siblings or relatives may be US citizens or have lawful status, the act of deportation often leads to the separation of families and interferes with family unity.iv
Hard working undocumented students have been waiting far too long to be fully participating members of our society, in a country which is likely to be the only one they have ever truly known. Their dreams and aspirations are in the hands of Congress. It is time to do the right thing and pass the DREAM Act so that we ensure the human rights of this group of young immigrants are respected, protected and fulfilled.
i. Passel, J., Unauthorized Immigrant Population: National and State Trends, 2010, The Pew Hispanic Center, February 2011, at 13, available here.
ii. J. Batalova and M. McHugh, DREAM vs. Reality: An Analysis of Potential DREAM Act Beneficiaries, The Migration Policy Institute, July 2010, at 4, available here.
iii. See the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.
iv. See Amnesty International, Jailed without justice: Immigration detention in the USA, available at here, Amnesty International, In Hostile Terrain: Human rights violations in immigration enforcement in the US southwest, AMR 51/018/2012, available here.