New Immigration Bill Expands on the Dream Act to Dreamers of All Ages

The bill proposed by the “Gang of Eight” in the Senate brings remarkable news to Dreamers seeking a chance to stay in the U.S. and become lawful permanent residents sooner. Under the bill being proposed in the Senate, there is no age cap for those who entered the U.S. as children. While the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy implemented under the Obama administration has a cap of 30 years old, this bill makes no mention of age.

The new gang of eight bill would allow undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children to attain lawful permanent resident status more quickly, with a wait time of five years rather than ten years required of others. Dreamers would be eligible if they entered the country under the age of 16, earned a high school diploma or GED here, and attended college for at least two years or served in the military for at least four years.

Under the legislation, Dreamers who have been deported could also apply to reenter the United States, so long as they were in the country prior to 2012 and were not deported for criminal reasons.

One major advocate of the DREAM Act, Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented journalist and activist who has become a face of the immigration reform movement, was not available for deferred action because he aged out of the Deferred Action available under the Obama policy. But he said Wednesday that it appears he would be eligible for a Dreamer path to citizenship under the new immigration reform bill, which he said is less than perfect but has “some very good things in it.” His organization, Define American, will “keep engaging media stakeholders in elevating how we talk about immigration and humanizing immigrants” by discouraging the use of the term “illegal immigrant,” he said.

“[A]s someone who’s from the ‘elder DREAMer’ generation (those of us over age 30 who were educated here in the U.S. and consider America our home) — I am more than elated,” he said in an email. “In my travels around the country talking about immigration reform and asking people how do they define American, I’ve met numerous DREAMers in their 30s and 40s who tell me, ‘I am a DREAMer before there was a DREAM Act. I have a dream, too.’ I cannot help but think about all of them today.”
Of the 36 Dreamers on the cover of Time magazine last year, four (including Vargas himself) had aged out of deferred action, he said. Other longtime Dream Act advocates also applauded the decision. Undocumented 28-year-old Gaby Pacheco would have been eligible for the Dream Act — as would her elder sister, but for the fact that her sister is over the age of 30.

Pacheco said the stronger Dream Act provisions are in part thanks to the Dreamers who “came out” as undocumented and shared their stories. Since the last vote on the Dream Act in 2010, even Republicans who voted against it then, such as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), have endorsed the idea.

“We’ve been doing so much work for years now to get to the hearts and minds of people … even Republican senators, Republican members of the House, they’ll say, ‘Yes, we’ll vote on Dreamers,'” she said. “And I think that’s a testament to the work that we’ve done, but also the power of stories.”
All of the hard work of DREAMers and DREAM Act advocates is reflected in the bill proposed in the Senate. If this bill moves forward to the House and passes into law, it will be a major success for the efforts of these individuals to help those who were brought into the U.S. as children become lawful permanent residents.