THE DREAM ACT AND THE ACHIEVE ACT: COMPETING LEGISLATION FOR UNDOCUMENTED YOUTH
More than three million students graduate from high school every year. Many of them achieve their goal to attend College or a University and live the American Dream. However, approximately 65,000 of them lose this opportunity because they are illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents when they were children. Because these talented people have lived almost their entire lives in the United States of America, they deserve no other thing but being called Americans as the rest of their fellow students.
As a form of giving hope to those illegal students, the DREAM Act has been introduced in various forms since 2001. This is the bipartisan legislation which can solve the injustice these youth are suffering. Through this act, eligible undocumented youth would obtain a 6 year long conditional path to citizenship that requires the completion of a college degree or two years of military service. Until recently, the DREAM Act had all but stalled out in Congress.
Last week, Republicans introduced the ACHIEVE Act as a response to the DREAM Act. Congressional Republicans have advanced this act as a means of tackling this very specific issue in the broader problem of immigration reform. Both acts were created with the goal of helping undocumented youth and have some similar provisions, but there are marked differences between the two proposed pieces of legislation as well.
Under the DREAM Act, individuals must have entered the U.S. before age 16 and be under age 33 (or 36 for the House version) on the date of the enactment. On the other hand, the ACHIEVE Act requires that individuals have entered the U.S before age 14 and be under age 28 (or age 32 if the individual has a degree from a 4- year college in the United States) on the date of the enactment. Clearly, the DREAM Act, in terms of age limits, grants more opportunity to undocumented youth to be eligible. Additionally, under DREAM, undocumented immigrants would not have to obtain a 4-year college in the U.S. to qualify. DREAM would provide qualified applicants with a pathway to permanent residence; ACHIEVE only confers a “permanent non-immigrant status” to qualified applicants.
Both the DREAM Act and the ACHIEVE Act require a continuous presence; That is, being in the U.S. 5 years prior to the date of the enactment.
Regarding education eligibility requirements for conditional status, both Acts require individuals to have earned a high school or a GED and be admitted to a post- secondary education institution or enlisted in the military.
Both the DREAM Act and the ACHIEVE Act, have high good moral character eligibility requirements. It is understandable because the Republicans and Democrats look for people who could be an asset to the country and not a burden. The first one establishes, individuals must not have been convicted of any federal or state offense punishable by imprisonment of more than one year, or convicted of three or more offenses on different dates with total imprisonment of more than 90 days. On the other hand, the ACHIEVE Act requires individuals must not have been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of more than 30 days (unless the misdemeanor is the result of a traffic violation not involving alcohol or drugs).
One potential problem with the ACHIEVE Act is that it does not repeal the law that penalizes states that offer in-state tuition to undocumented students. Additionally, the act prevents qualified students from obtaining higher education financial assistance such as federal work study, student loans, Pell Grants, and all other forms of federal financial aid. In contrast, the DREAM Act repeals the law that penalizes states that offer in state tuition to undocumented students and allows states to choose policy. The DREAM Act also establishes that qualified students are eligible for federal work study, student loans, and other forms of state financial aid, although they are not eligible for Pell Grants or certain forms of federal financial aid.
According to the DREAM Act, qualified undocumented students would not have explicit restrictions on travel. Yet, according to the ACHIEVE Act individuals with a W-Visa can travel outside of the United States for less than 90 days.
The DREAM Act does not restrict potential beneficiaries from means-tested public benefits, such as Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and are eligible to purchase health coverage through the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) Exchanges. On the other hand, the ACHIVE Act renders potential beneficiaries ineligible for any means tested public benefits or subsidies to help purchase health coverage through the ACA Exchanges, subsidies that are otherwise available to legally present individuals.
As Congress and the President move forward in attempting to tackle immigration reform, undocumented youth throughout the country will be keeping an eye on these proposed measures, anxiously awaiting whatever opportunities will become available to them in the next legislative session.
If you would like to speak with a Utah immigration attorney, about the DREAM Act, give us a call at 801-895-3113 for a free thirty minute consultation!
Schmidt Law Firm Law Firm
136 East South Temple Street #1500
Salt Lake City, UT 84111