Articles Posted in Illinois Dream Act

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we_are_all_immigrantsOn Election Day, the state of Maryland voted to enact it’s state version of the DREAM Act. FIfty-eight percent of Marylanders voted to allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition when attending public colleges in the state. This Maryland law is similar to the Illinois DREAM Act passed here in 2011.

Though it shares a name with the federal DREAM Act which Congress failed to enact last session, the state law in Maryland does not confer immigration benefits to undocumented people, nor does it alter their legal status in the eyes of the federal government. Instead, the law make it possible for young people to become contributing members of society by affording them a path to higher education. The Maryland law also requires undocumented immigrants to declare their intention to apply for permanent residency as well as prove filing of income taxes and selective service registration.

There are now 11 states with some form of DREAM Act (though Maryland is the first state to pass such a measure by public vote) and it is clear that public opinion is turning in favor of sensible immigration reform. State laws can only do so much and what America’s undocumented immigrants need now is a way to become a legal, contributing member of society.

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flag-of-united-states-pacific-island-wildlife-refuges_w725_h381.jpgToday, June 15, 2012, the Obama Administration announced that it will offer deferred action to “DREAMers,” the undocumented young immigrants who came to this country as children and attended school in the United States. Under the new procedures, eligible immigrants who are currently in deportation or removal proceedings will be granted “deferred action” and allowed to remain in the United States. Young Immigrants who are not currently in removal proceedings will have to submit applications and demonstrate their eligibility for deferred action. If they can demonstrate economic necessity, the DREAMers will be entitled to work authorization and social security numbers. The deferred action is good for two years, and is renewable.

In order to qualify, the undocumented persons must be 15-30 years old and have entered the United States before age 16, must have been present in the U.S. for 5 continuous years as of June 15, 2012, must have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor or multiple minor misdemeanors, and must be currently in school, graduated or have a GED, or be an honorably discharged veteran.

Although clearly a step in the right direction, the Deferred Action grants no legal immigrant status on the beneficiary. It is not a path to citizenship or a green card. It does however remove the cloud of fear of deportation from many young people who have been raised and educated in the United States. And for most, it will give the legitimacy of work authorization and a social security number.

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Pro-immigrant advocates secured a victory for undocumented immigrants when the Illinois Senate passed the Senate Bill 2185, the DREAM Act. But let us be clear about what the DREAM ACT does and does not do. Unlike the Proposed Federal DREAM Act legislation, the Illinois version is NOT an immigration bill. It grants no immigration benefits to undocumented students, nor does it lead to any path to citizenship. It does not permit visas, or green cards or driving licenses to undocumented students, and does not provide scholarships with public funds. What the Illinois DREAM Act does is provide scholarships that are funded entirely from private contributions for undocumented students. [Note, as an immigration lawyer, I prefer the word “undocumented” and never use the phrase “illegal immigrants”] In order to be eligible for the DREAM Act program, the student must be a resident of Illinois, be enrolled or planning to attend colleges, and must have a federal taxpayer identification number proving that they work and pay taxes.

A popular misconception is that undocumented immigrants currently cannot attend college because they do not have social security numbers. This is not true, and in fact, since 2003, Illinois in-state tuition law has allowed undocumented students to attend Illinois colleges at the same lower in-state tuition rates as other Illinois residents, as long as they resided with a parent or guardian for three years while attending and graduating from a public or private high school in this state. The applicant must also provide the university with an affidavit stating that the individual will file and application to become a permanent resident of the United States as soon as he or she is legally able to do so. Illinois, to its credit, was one of the first states to allow undocumented students access to in-state tuition at Illinois Colleges. Today’s local version of the DREAM Act continues in that tradition and extends to these young residents of the state a means of financial aid to get there.

The Kalita Law Group, PC specializes in family immigration issues. We keep a close watch on all pending local, state and federal legislation that affects immigrants and foreign nationals living in this country, and we are always prepared to counsel and guide clients through new laws and procedures as they are implemented.