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H.R. 6: What You Need to Know About the American Dream and Promise Act

May 2, 2019 Diana Ali NASPA

Next week the House of Representatives is scheduled to mark-up H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, which would provide a pathway to citizenship and remove barriers for higher education financial aid eligibility to over 2.3 million undocumented youth (Dreamers) as well as providing protections for individuals with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) holders. This week, NASPA joins with the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, FWD.us, United We Dream and other higher education organizations to support the passage of H.R. 6. This post will unpack provisions of the legislation that are of a keen interest to student affairs and the higher education community.

The Citizenship Pathway
Who qualifies?

Titles I and II of the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 offer conditional permanent resident (CPR) status and an opportunity for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status to qualifying Dreamers, TPS holders, and DED recipients. Dreamers are those who entered the United States as youths, have obtained a high school diploma or equivalent credential, and who have not been convicted of crimes of a certain nature.[1] Dreamers are inclusive of those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, through which the American Dream and Promise Act would also provide CPR eligibility (Section 102). TPS and DED recipients had to have been continuously present in the U.S. for the last three years and a national of those countries with TPS or DED eligibility on September 25, 2016. If enacted as it stands, those granted CPR status under the American Dream and Promise Act could apply for LPR status upon meeting eligibility through demonstrating a certain level of English proficiency along with the completion of a college degree, military service, or three-year duration of employment. After five years, under current law, as administered by United States Immigration and Citizenship Services, those granted LPR status are eligible to apply for naturalization.

Who benefits?

Offering CPR status to millions of qualifying youth opens up more opportunity for the higher education community and the national economy as at large. A February 2018 analysis on DACA recipients by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found the program correlates with a 15 percent increase in high school graduation rates and a 20 percent increase in college enrollment for those receiving DACA benefits. DACA recipients comprise just a portion of the current Dreamer population, and more undocumented students are graduating from high school than previously thought. An April 2019 Migration Policy Institute factsheet using census data estimates that there are 98,000 undocumented students graduating from U.S. high schools every year, a significant increase to that of the fairly common estimate of 65,000. Given these data, extending certain benefits provided under DACA to all qualifying Dreamers could substantially improve college enrollment in states like California and Texas with estimated annual undocumented high school graduation rates numbering in the tens of thousands.

Under the proposed H.R. 6, CPR status would be valid for ten years and, like DACA, include access to a work permit, a state-issued identification card, and a driver’s license. Having either a driver’s license or a state-issued ID increases accessibility for both college attendance and completion. A government issued ID is required in order to apply for federal financial aid, which, as noted in our recent post on in-state tuition for undocumented students, the receipt of supplemental financial assistance may reduce barriers to the completion of a four-year degree. Additionally, a driver’s license serves a number of purposes for immigrant students, from a way to secure an internship and volunteer opportunities, to a means to successfully juggle work and class schedules independently. In December 2018, the New Jersey legislature introduced a measure to extend driver’s license eligibility (NJ A4743/S3229) to residents unable to prove lawful status. Chancellor of Rutgers University and co-chair of the steering committee of the Presidents Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, Nancy Cantor, and President of Rutgers University RU Dreamers, Esder Chong described in their column advocating for the measure that “no license could mean no job to help pay for school or even to help contribute to supporting a family.” Passage of the American Dream and Promise Act could alleviate this issue for students across the entire nation.

Unlike DACA, unless allowed for in certain states like New York and Nebraska, CPR status will provide similar access as LPR status holders to professional, commercial, and business licenses as well. This offers those granted relief under the American Dream and Promise Act the means to pursue high-skill career pathways and contribute to the overall national competitiveness of the global economy. A 2012 report by the Migration Policy Institute, The Economic Value of Citizenship for Immigrants in the United States, found that naturalized citizens were more likely to secure advanced degrees and earn between 50 and 70 percent more than noncitizens. Providing a pathway to citizenship thus creates avenues for Dreamers, TPS recipients, and DED recipients to invest in their respective communities and uplift future generations.

Repeal of Section 505 and Eligibility for Federal Student Aid

The United States has considered the issue of undocumented youth in the United States for decades. First, in 1982, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the right for undocumented youth to attend K-12 public school in the Texas case of Plyer v Doe. Next, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) Section 505,  which passed into law in 1996, specifically mandated that undocumented immigrants “shall not be eligible on the basis of residence” for in-state tuition or state-based financial aid “unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.” States can, and do, avoid violation of Section 505 of IIRIRA to offer undocumented students in-state tuition ad state-based financial aid. A number of states establish residency through high-school attendance, but the provision created an exclusionary policy by default.

Section 106 of the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 specifies that those granted CPR status will receive eligibility for federal financial aid, including Perkins loans, federal grants, and work-study. Section 106 would also remove the requirement for state-by-state workarounds to Section 505 by removing it entirely. The removal of Section 505 may and eligibility to federal aid could provide an incentive for more states to extend state-based aid and free college and promise programs to undocumented students as well.  

How Can You Support H.R. 6?

One of the best ways to support H.R. 6, is to reach out to your Representative and explain why the legislation is important to you as a constituent and student affairs professional. The Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education has created an advocacy toolkit you can use to consider how the bill impacts you and your community. Fwd.us has also created an easy to remember link that you can share to encourage your networks to call their representatives this week: CallToProtectTheDream.com.


[1] Requirements are summarized for inclusion in this post. For exact eligibility requirements please review the bill text, or section by section summary created by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC).