US House passes DREAM Act

Effort faces significant hurdles in Senate

THE US HOUSE passed the Dream and Promise Act on Tuesday, legislation that would allow 2.5 million immigrants, including 30,000 in Massachusetts, to apply for legal status and the ability to work. 

The House hasn’t passed a version of the Dream Act since 2010, the last time Democrats controlled the chamber. All nine members of the Massachusetts House delegation voted in favor of the current legislation.  

The bill covers several groups of immigrants, but also brings more groups under its umbrella than previous versions.  

It was passed with a 237-187 vote. The vote was mostly along party lines with only seven Republicans crossing the aisle.

The bill covers Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, who benefit from the program established by former president Barack Obama in 2012 to protect those brought into the country illegally by their parents as minors. DACA enrollment was canceled by President Trump, and the status of existing recipients has been mired in the courts. 

Those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) – a legal protection given on a country-by-country basis, most recently for immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti – qualify, as do those with Deferred Enforced Department status, which covers a tiny group of Liberians in Rhode Island and Minnesota seeking humanitarian protections. Immigrants in both categories would be able to apply for green cards if they have been in the US since fall 2016. After having a green card for five years, they’d be allowed to apply for citizenship.  

DACA recipients would get conditional permanent residency status for 10 years and access to federal financial aid. Those with temporary protected status would be given legal permanent residency status if they have been in the US for at least three years. The young Dreamers had to be 17 or younger when they initially entered the US, and have lived in the country for at least four years before enactment of the bill, if it becomes law. High school education and criminal background checks are requirements.  

Applicants with a history of student visa abuse, multiple misdemeanors, felonies, or domestic/sexual violence history would be disqualified. 

According to the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan policy institute, 45,300 current and potential DACA recipients and TPS and DED holders in Massachusetts would benefit from the legislation. They pay over $206 million in state and local taxes, a statistic immigration advocates have been touting as an example of how the groups of immigrants help the economy. 

During the legislative debate, Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, a Republican from Pennsylvania, said passage of the legislation would increase illegal crossings at the southern border“Passing this bill would encourage and reward illegal entrants,” he said. “We all know this is dead on arrival at the Senate. 

The Republican-controlled Senate rejected four immigration proposals in 2018 involving border security and citizenship for DACA recipients.  

Senator Ed Markey said in a statement, “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is standing in the way of stability and legal certainty for young people who know no home but America. We need to create a tsunami of public pressure that makes Senate Republicans bring this legislation to the Senate floor for a real debate. The safe and secure future of our Dreamers will be an issue in the 2020 campaign that Republicans ignore at their political peril.” Senator Elizabeth Warren took it a step further, calling Trump out directly.

“The House of Representatives sent an important message today: that we must protect Dreamers, TPS holders, and DED beneficiaries from President Trump’s racist, anti-immigrant agenda. Senator McConnell should bring this bill up for a vote, and the Senate should pass it immediately,” she wrote in an email.

The bill faces hurdles in a Senate led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who will have to bring the bill to the floor. The polarizing political atmosphere is a far cry from the 2003 version of the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and had a dozen Republican co-sponsors.

The 2019 House effort was led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Democratic  Reps. Yvette Clarke, Nydia Velázquez, and Lucille Roybal-Allard.  

University of Massachusetts Boston student Estefany Pinedaa DACA recipient, said she is hopeful the Senate will pass the bill. “This is just the beginning of a potential reform and while it may be in holdup it doesn’t mean it’s over,” she said. “The Senate needs to give answers and needs to think of the millions of lives they are affecting with their decision. They need to do what is right.” 

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Pineda came to the US in 2007 as an 8-year-old and got DACA in 2016. She pays $500 every two years to re-apply for the status. Pineda said she would like to graduate and live her life without worrying about deportation or being able to legally work after graduation.