For many undocumented students, the only realistic hope of becoming legal U.S. residents is Congress passing legislation dubbed the DREAM Act, short for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. As proposed last year, the act would offer undocumented students without criminal records a path to citizenship if they complete two years of post-secondary education or military service.
To qualify, students would have to have graduated from a U.S. high school, proven that they entered the U.S. before age 16 and and showed that they had remained in the U.S. for at least five years before the act took effect.
But prospects for passage of such legislation are increasingly uncertain with Republicans taking control of the U.S. House. With Democratic majorities in each house, the DREAM Act passed in the House last year but fell five votes short in the Senate.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who sponsored the legislation last year, has said he plans to re-introduce it this session. But as of early May that had yet to happen.
Jeanne Batalova, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C., said that the longer Congress takes to pass immigration legislation, the more undocumented students will be graduating from high schools and colleges.
“What we need is a solution that takes into account the pluses and minuses and the benefits and challenges that immigration brings,” she said. “In the meantime, the lives of many undocumented students and their fate is up in the air.”