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THE DREAM ACT AND DACA


THE ORIGINAL DREAMER In 1998, Tereza Lee, a 15-year-old undocumented immigrant, witnessed her younger brother get hit by a car—and then watched as her parents, terrified of involving the cops, blamed the boy and paid the medical costs out of pocket. The incident highlighted the difficult reality she was facing as she neared adulthood: if her brother couldn’t access the medical coverage he needed because he was undocumented, how could she pursue her education without legal status?


Lee confided in a teacher, who reached out to Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, who, moved by Lee’s story and the stories of other undocumented young people, introduced a bill called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) to Congress in April of 2001.


THE DREAM ACT TODAY The 2001 DREAM Act had strong bipartisan support and would likely have passed—but the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 caused the original hearings, scheduled for September 12, to be canceled, and fundamentally changed the immigration debate in the U.S. Since then, at least ten versions of the DREAM Act have been introduced—but none have become law. In 2010, the DREAM Act passed in the House but was narrowly defeated in the Senate. The House of Representatives passed an updated DREAM Act in 2019, but it is unlikely to pass in the Senate.


DACA


In 2012, frustrated by Congress’ inability to pass the DREAM Act or similar legislation, the Obama administration created a policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. DACA is not a law; it was a decision by the Department of Homeland Security to not pursue deportation for a certain group of undocumented immigrants. DACA does not provide a pathway to citizenship and has to be renewed every two years, but it allows recipients to work legally and to attend school. Opponents of DACA argue that the program is an overreach of executive power and that the power to make immigration policy rests only with Congress.


To qualify for DACA, applicants have to apply, pay a $495 fee, and meet certain requirements, including that they: • were under 31 years old on June 15, 2012 • arrived in the country while under the age of 16, • are currently in school, have graduated high school, earned a GED, or been honorably discharged from the military


• have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors.


8 ROUNDABOUT THEATRE COMPANY


By 2017, nearly 800,000 of the estimated 1.3 million young people eligible had applied for and received DACA. Studies have shown that individuals have moved to better jobs, started small businesses, opened bank accounts, purchased homes, and completed degrees since receiving DACA relief, all activities which contribute positively to their communities and to the national economy.


ENDING DACA


In September 2017, President Trump announced that his administration was “winding down” DACA: no new applications would be accepted, and two-year renewals would be accepted only for a short window of time. Those whose DACA period had expired would have no protection from deportation proceedings. Court cases were quickly brought against the administration, and in January 2018 a federal judge in California ruled that the administration had to continue accepting applications while the court cases proceeded.


THE SUPREME COURT


In November 2019, the Supreme Court heard arguments that consolidated three different DACA-related cases. Those in favor of maintaining the program argued that because a large number of people rely on DACA, the Trump administration is required to offer a more thorough explanation of why they are ending the program. From a legal perspective, the administration could end DACA provided they issue a thorough memo of explanation; the case is an attempt to slow the end of DACA until a DREAM Act is passed or a new administration takes office.


A decision from the Supreme Court is expected in early 2020.•


Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) greets Tereza Lee before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the DREAM Act, June 28, 2011


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