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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Unauthorized Alien Students: Issues and “DREAM Act” Legislation


Andorra Bruno
Specialist in Immigration Policy

Supporters of comprehensive immigration reform have urged the President and Congress to pursue reform legislation. While legislative action on comprehensive reform does not appear likely during the remainder of the 111th Congress, there are efforts to enact a measure, commonly referred to as the “DREAM Act,” to enable certain unauthorized alien students to legalize their status. On December 8, 2010, the House approved DREAM Act language as part of an unrelated bill, the Removal Clarification Act of 2010 (H.R. 5281).

Unauthorized aliens in the United States are able to receive free public education through high school. They may experience difficulty obtaining higher education, however, for several reasons. Among these reasons is a provision enacted in 1996 that prohibits states from granting unauthorized aliens certain postsecondary educational benefits on the basis of state residence, unless equal benefits are made available to all U.S. citizens. This prohibition is commonly understood to apply to the granting of “in-state” residency status for tuition purposes. Unauthorized alien students also are not eligible for federal student financial aid. More broadly, as unauthorized aliens, they are not legally allowed to work and are subject to being removed from the country.

Multiple bills have been introduced in recent Congresses to address the unauthorized student population. Most have proposed a two-prong approach of repealing the 1996 provision and enabling some unauthorized alien students to become U.S. legal permanent residents (LPRs) through an immigration procedure known as cancellation of removal. Bills proposing this type of relief for unauthorized students are commonly referred to as the DREAM Act. While there are other options for dealing with this population, this report deals exclusively with the DREAM Act approach in light of the widespread congressional interest in it.

A number of stand-alone DREAM Act bills have been introduced in the 111
th Congress. Some of these bills (H.R. 1751, S. 729, S. 3827), like most DREAM Act bills introduced in prior Congresses, would repeal the 1996 provision and enable eligible unauthorized students to adjust to LPR status through a two-stage process. Other bills (H.R. 6327, H.R. 6497, S. 3962, S. 3963, S. 3992) would establish a two-stage adjustment of status mechanism for unauthorized students, but would not repeal the 1996 provision.

The DREAM Act language approved by the House as part of H.R. 5281 is the same as in H.R. 6497. Under this version of the DREAM Act, aliens granted cancellation of removal would initially obtain conditional nonimmigrant status (as opposed to conditional permanent resident status, as under most other DREAM Act bills). To become LPRs, the aliens would need to meet additional requirements.



Date of Report: December 14, 2010
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: RL33863
Price: $29.95

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