Written by attorney Karen-Lee Pollak

What is the DREAM Act and Deferred Action?

The DREAM Act, short for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, is a piece of legislation first proposed in the Senate in August 2001. This bill would provide for conditional legal residency and educational opportunities for tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before age 16. These individuals, called DREAMers, would have six years to meet the requirements of the DREAM Act and qualify for permanent resident status.

DREAM Act Provisions

The 2009 version of the legislation -- which passed the House of Representatives in 2010 but was killed in the Senate -- would have provided conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented immigrants under specific conditions. Beneficiaries of the DREAM Act would have to meet the following conditions:

  • Proof of having arrived in the United States before age 16.
  • Proof of residence in the United States for at least five consecutive years since their arrival in the country.
  • Be between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time the bill is enacted.
  • Graduated from an American high school, obtained a GED, or been admitted to an institution of higher education.
  • If male, have registered with the Selective Service (the draft).
  • Be of good moral character.

After qualifying for conditional residency, an individual would then have six years to complete either two years of post-secondary educational or military service. After meeting this qualification, DREAMers could apply for U.S. citizenship.

Who Benefits From the DREAM Act?

There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The Migration Policy Institute estimated in 2010 that over 2 million of these would be eligible to apply for conditional residency under DREAM Act provisions, with actual applicants estimated at around 800,000. Illegal immigrants who qualified for DREAMer status would be able to apply for federal student loans and work study programs, but not Pell grants. Conditional residency status could be revoked if the individual did not meet the educational or military service requirement within six years, or if they were convicted of any crimes other than non-drug-related misdemeanors.

Legislative History

Versions of the DREAM Act have been introduced in both the House and the Senate at various times over the past decade. The legislation has fallen short of the number of votes needed to pass five times, with opponents of the bill giving a variety of reasons for their disapproval. Some see the act as an amnesty program that would threaten national security or reward illegal immigration; other lawmakers believe that provisions of the DREAM Act should only pass as part of comprehensive immigration overhaul and reform.

Another concern is economical; DREAMers enrolled in public colleges and universities would receive a $6,000 tuition subsidy annually, which could potentially cost the country several billion dollars per year. On the other hand, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that passing the DREAM Act would reap more than $2 billion in federal revenues over the following decade due to the influx of new taxpayers. The Obama administration has also stressed the stringent requirements for qualifying for the DREAM Act, the provisions in the bill that do not allow DREAMers to petition for citizenship for foreign relatives, and the fact that the act does not allow recipients enrolled in a college or university to qualify for any further federal student grants.

Deferred Action

On June 15, President Obama issued an executive order that some are calling "DREAM Act Lite." With the DREAM Act itself currently in limbo, the President issued what he called a "stopgap" measure, directing the Department of Homeland Security to halt the deportation of undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 who were brought to the U.S. as children. This order effectively decriminalized the status of individuals who would have qualified for permanent residency under the DREAM Act, and is valid for two years.

How to File

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that those who meet the the qualifications outlined in this executive order can request consideration of deferred action. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) begins accepting completed forms requesting deferred action August 15, 2012. To qualify, individuals must:

  • Have come to the United States before age 16.
  • Have resided in the United States continuously for at least five years.
  • Be under age 30.
  • Currently be in school, have graduated from high school or earned a GED, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Armed Forces.
  • Have not been convicted of a felony offense or multiple misdemeanor offenses, or not otherwise pose a threat to public safety.

Qualified individuals must submit Form I-821D (, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Form I-765 (, Application for Employment Authorization (with accompanying fees), and the I-765WS Worksheet ( USCIS has established a website, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Process (, to function as a clearinghouse for information, frequently asked questions, and links to related resources.

Free Q&A with lawyers in your area

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer