Senators Introduce Dream Act; Includes Middle-Skill Pathway

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, July 20, 2017

Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) today introduced the Dream Act of 2017. The bill would provide a path to legal immigration status and eventual U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and meet eligibility requirements. Notably, the bill includes a provision that would enable immigrants who earn certain middle-skill credentials to obtain legal status. NSC has long advocated for this provision, which ensures that the Dream Act is responsive to current US labor market needs. As described below, American businesses across all fifty states show strong and continuing demand for workers who are trained at the middle-skill level.

What the Bill Includes

The Dream Act introduced today is similar in its general outline to earlier versions introduced in Congress over the past 15 years, but has been modernized in numerous respects to better reflect today’s labor market and other considerations. Individuals who apply for status under the Dream Act of 2017 would need to complete a three-step process.

First, applicants would have to meet initial criteria and apply for conditional permanent resident status. Second, those who receive conditional status would have the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent resident status (known colloquially as a “green card”). Finally, those who have green cards would be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

In order to earn permanent resident status, individuals would need to meet a range of eligibility criteria, including but not limited to:

  • Graduating from high school or obtaining high school equivalency;
  • Pursuing higher education (including certain middle-skill educational pathways); working lawfully for at least 3 years, or serving in the military;
  • Demonstrating proficiency in the English language and a knowledge of United States history; and
  • Passing security and law enforcement background checks

Why A Middle-Skill Pathway Matters

Middle-skill occupations are those that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a bachelor’s degree. A National Skills Coalition analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data found there are not enough workers in the U.S. trained for middle-skill jobs: Fully 54% of jobs in the labor market are middle skill, but only 44% of workers are trained to that level.

There is robust demand for middle-skill workers across the 50 states, as NSC’s state-by-state fact sheets demonstrate. Immigrant Dreamers can play an important role in helping their states meet the demand for these workers. Research on Dreamers has shown that many are already obtaining middle-skill credentials.

In recognition of this labor market demand, NSC has long advocated for a middle-skills pathway in the Dream Act. Our Missing in Action report outlines policy recommendations in this area. The new Dream Act being introduced by Senators Durbin and Graham incorporates our core recommendation, and would allow individuals who earn certain middle-skill credentials to qualify for legal status.

How Many People Would Be Affected 

While estimates of the exact number of individuals who would be eligible for the new Dream Act is are not yet available, data from a related effort can help shed light on the potential universe of applicants.

That data comes from the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, which issued estimates indicating that 1.9 million young people could be eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

DACA was implemented through executive action by the Obama administration in 2012 and allows eligible young undocumented immigrants to obtain temporary protection from deportation and a 2-year renewable work permit. DACA eligibility requirements are similar but not identical to those for the first step of the Dream Act.

To date, approximately 800,000 individuals have been granted DACA status. Under the newly introduced Dream Act, people who had already received DACA would automatically be granted the first step in the Dream Act process — conditional permanent resident status – unless they have engaged in conduct subsequent to receiving DACA that would make them ineligible.

A Permanent Resolution Versus a Temporary Fix

While the DACA program has provided a temporary fix for many young immigrant Dreamers, no president has the authority to grant permanent immigration status. Only Congress has the power to provide a path to permanent legal status and citizenship.

Introduction of the new Dream Act comes as the Trump administration is facing a challenge from states that want the DACA program to be abolished. A group of 10 states, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, has set a September 2017 deadline for the administration to “phase out” the DACA program or face legal action.