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A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States: DACA and the DREAM Act

This guide focuses on the civil rights that various groups have fought for within the United States.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

In response to the failure of the DREAM Act legislation to pass both houses of Congress, President Obama initiated the immigration policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2012.  DACA provides a 2-year deferment from deportation actions and provides eligibility for a work permit.  The requirements for participating in DACA are: 

  • Under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
  • Entered the United States by the 16th birthday;
  • Continuous residence in the United States since June 15, 2007;
  • Physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012 and at the time of the request for consideration under DACA
  • Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012;
  • Currently in school, graduated or obtained a certificate of complete from a high school, or have obtained a GED, or honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States, and;
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

The Migration Policy Institute has estimated that there are 1.9 million potential participants in the United States.  The USCIS has accepted 844,931 applications as of June, 2016; the primary country of origin for DACA participants is Mexico.  With the election of Donald J. Trump the future of DACA is uncertain.  President-elect Trump stated during his campaign that he intended to terminate the program upon entering office.  Per DACA requirements the participants have self-identified as being unlawful residents and could face deportation proceedings if the program is terminated.  

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Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM)

The DREAM Act, as introduced by Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch in 2001 (s. 1291), would create a process by which immigrants would be able to apply for conditional residency, leading to permanent residency, based upon their age at time of entry into the United States.  S. 1291 would have required applicants to provide proof that he or she entered the United States before the age of 16 and has continuously lived in the United States for five years to establish conditional residency.  Additionally, the applicant would need to have graduated from a high school in the United States, or obtained a GED; demonstrates good moral character; pass a criminal background review.  

Once conditional residency was established, and the applicant had been a resident for six years, the applicant would be able to apply for permanent residency by demonstrating: attendance at a post-secondary educational institution, or service in the United States military for at least 2 years or received an honorable discharge; pass additional background checks; continued demonstration of good moral character.  

The DREAM Act has failed to pass despite numerous introductions.  In 2010, a revised version of the DREAM Act was introduced in the House (H.R. 6497) and passed; however, it failed to pass the Senate. Dick Durbin sponsored the DREAM Act in 2011 (S. 952), but the legislation had lost important support from Congressional republicans and was not passed.  

The DREAM Act instigated much discussion on the status of minor children brought into the United States who are unable to establish permanent residency and who face deportation to their country of origin, despite the child having lived in the United States for many years.  Many framed the issue as protecting children from the consequences for actions over which the child had no control, while others framed the Act as a reward for illegal activity that would create an incentive for minor children to enter into the United States illegally.  (For a contemporaneous report see After a False Dawn, Anxiety for illegal Immigrant Students by Julia Preston, New York Times, February 8, 2011.)


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