Immigration Options For Undocumented Youth "Dreamers"

DREAMers are young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States at a young age and who consider the U.S. to be their home country. Good citizens and ambitious, the DREAMers are in search of a way to pursue the American Dream they deeply admire and desire for themselves. They intend to change the public perception of young immigrants, who are often seen as criminals and pariahs of American society. DREAMers want people to understand that they just want to contribute to the U.S. without living in fear of being sent back to a country they're unfamiliar with. As of August 2012, it is estimated that there are 1.76 million DREAMers.

DREAMer: Origins of the Term

There is a long history of the fight for the rights of non-U.S-born youth. In the 1600s and 1700s, various settlements established their own private and public schools and some states passed bilingual education laws. In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment gave citizenship rights to naturalized people. In 1964, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act said the following: "No person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any or activity receiving federal financial assistance." In 1982, the Plyler v. Doe decision made it illegal for states to deny education to undocumented immigrant children. Everyone in history who was involved in the push for such legislation could be considered a DREAMer. But this term did not actually achieve public consciousness until 2001.

In 2001, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was introduced to Congress by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL). The DREAM Act was drafted as a bipartisan bill that, according to Hatch, would be used to avoid chain migration. The Act would not apply to all undocumented immigrants, and it would not affect future immigrants. It would also hardly affect immigration law because it would not create a continuing option. It would only apply to individuals and not families.

The DREAM Act would provide a path toward legalization for undocumented youth who came to the U.S. before the age of sixteen and who entered the U.S. five years or more prior to the bill's enactment. The conditions are that the person attend college or serve in the U.S. Military for at least two years while keeping a good moral character. To be eligible, the person would also have to have been in the U.S. continuously for five years, have earned a high school diploma, and have not committed any crimes. These eligible people became known as the DREAMers.

DREAM Act Not Approved

Since its introduction in 2001, the DREAM Act has been under scrutiny. Opponents say extending public education benefits to undocumented immigrants is a reward for breaking the laws. Supporters say the U.S. would benefit from giving talented, ambitious individuals a shot at full participation in American education and society. The DREAM Act can't seem to gain full support of Congress. The legislation has failed to pass in 2001, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Options for DREAMers


Undocumented youth are often under the misconception that there are state laws that disallow them to go to college. This is not true. There is no federal or state law that bans undocumented immigrants from admission into a U.S. public or private college. Colleges have their own specific policies though, so a significant amount of time should be spent researching the policies of the college of interest and the state in which that college is located.

In-State Tuition and Financial Assistance

There are 12 states that have laws that expand who can qualify for in-state tuition to undocumented students. Since 2001, 13 states enacted this type of legislation but Wisconsin has since revoked this law. These are the states that allow in-state tuition for undocumented youth.

  1. California
  2. Connecticut
  3. Illinois
  4. Kansas
  5. Texas
  6. Maryland
  7. Nebraska
  8. New Mexico
  9. New York
  10. Oklahoma
  11. Utah
  12. Washington

Most of these states offer limited scholarships to undocumented students. However, federally funded student financial aid is out of the reach of the DREAMers. It is important to know that it is illegal for undocumented students to get government aid, government loans, government grants, government scholarships and/or work-study.

After Graduation

Options are limited for undocumented students. The lack of lawful status leaves them in an uncertain place after graduation: They can't work and are unlikely to be able to pursue an advanced education. There's no telling when the DREAM Act will pass in congress. The primary option DREAMers have for protection from deportation and for the opportunity to work is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA.

Deferred Action

President Barack Obama announced on June 15, 2012 that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would defer action on the deportation of certain young people who were brought into the U.S. as children illegally through the decision of adults. It does not provide a path for citizenship. It is instead a reprieve that lasts two years, which are then up for renewal. DACA also gives a recipient an employment authorization during those two years and access to a driver's license.

Much like the DREAM Act, DACA was not created to benefit all undocumented people. DACA went into effect on August 15, 2012 through Obama's executive order.

The requirements for Deferred Action were determined to be the following:

  • An eligible undocumented youth must have entered the country before 16th birthday;
  • Must have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years prior to June 15, 2012 and was physically present in the U.S. on that date;
  • Must be currently in school, must have graduated from high school, must have received a general education development (GED) certificate, or was honorably discharged from having served in the U.S. Coast Guard or Armed Forces;
  • Must have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, multiple misdemeanors, or must not otherwise be a threat to national security or the public's safety; and
  • Must not be above the age 30.

It was determined that the above requirements would have to be proven with proper documentation such as the following:

  • A Document of Identification, like an expired or unexpired passport
  • Documents showing the date of arrival to the U.S., like travel tickets
  • Documents showing proof of physical presence in the U.S. on June 15, 2012, like school records
  • Documents showing continuous residence in U.S. for at least five years before June 15, 2012, like hospital bills
  • Documents showing current enrollment in school, graduation, receipt of GED, or of honorable discharge, like letters from school registrar, original copies of diplomas and/or military pay records