The NCSL Blog


By Chesterfield Polkey

On June 4, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 (Dream Act) by 237 to 187. Seven Republicans crossed the aisle to vote with Democrats.

Divided into three major sections, the legislation would establish a pathway to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of individuals with, or who have had, deferred deportation status.

The legislation was introduced in March and had traveled through the Judiciary Committee and the Education and Labor Committee. The bill has 232 co-sponsors, all of whom are Democrats.

The momentum behind the Dream Act began when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a memorandum rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on Sept. 5, 2017. The program phased out over the following six months, ending March 2018.

However, on Jan. 9, 2018, two U.S. district judges (California and New York) ordered U.S. Customs and Immigration Services to continue accepting requests to renew grants of deferred action under DACA policy. The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ordered the DHS to not share DACA recipients’ private information for enforcement purposes.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and the 9th Circuit ruled that the Trump administration’s decision to end the DACA policy was illegal and issued orders to reinstate the program. Additionally, several lawsuits have been filed to challenge President Donald Trump’s decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for six countries (Nepal, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Sudan).

The Dream Act pairs with the court rulings by establishing legal protections for DACA recipients, TPS recipients and Deferred Enforcement Departure (DED) recipients. These recipients would have the chance to apply for permanent resident status. The process is also known as “Adjustment of Status.”

If enacted, the legislation would:

  • Provide undocumented children and individuals attending or completing high school or college such as DACA participants with the opportunity to apply for permanent resident status. Criteria for recipients include being continuously present in the U.S. for four years prior to the Dream Act’s enactment, not having committed high-level crimes and admitted or attending an institution of higher education, high school or high school equivalent.
  • Provide similar opportunities to foreign nationals in the United States protected or recently protected by TPS or DED. In addition to U.S. residents, TPS and DED previously removed or who voluntarily departed (and were eligible for adjustment of status on or after 9/25/2016) would be eligible for permanent resident status.

As of August 2018, there are nearly 700,000 DACA recipients. However, the Migration Policy Institute estimates that more than 1.3 million students meet all the criteria. As of March 2019, the U.S. provides TPS to approximately 417,000 foreign nationals from 10 countries. Liberia was the only country designated for DED, until Trump announced the termination of the country’s status.

For a line-by-line analysis of the American Dream and Promise Act, check out NCSL’s policy analysis of the legislation. To read about the effects of terminating DACA, TPS and DED, please refer to NCSL’s resource on the effects on states.

Chesterfield Polkey is the Emerson Hunger Fellow at NCSL.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.