Inside the immigration bill: Special path for DREAMers

US-POLITICS-CONGRESS-IMMIGRATION Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks to reporters about the Senate's immigration reform bill at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on April 16. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

They have become some of the most visible advocates for changes to the immigration system: young adults who were brought to the country illegally as children.

Since the DREAM Act — a bill to provide a path to legalization for such young adults — died in the Senate in 2010, the immigration provision has increasingly become one of the most popular and least controversial pieces of possible change. Even Republicans who have not yet endorsed broader efforts, like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), have said they support the DREAM Act.

So it's no surprise that the Senate's bipartisan immigration group  included provisions that provide a special path to citizenship for the DREAMers in the bill they will introduce this week.

The proposal goes beyond President Obama's deferred action program, enacted in summer 2012, which offered a two-year reprieve from deportation for many such immigrants.

A summary of the Senate bill indicates that young adults would be allowed to quickly enter a provisional legal status, which would allow them to live and work freely in the United States. After five years, they could seek a green card, which would allow permanent legal residency. They could then apply simultaneously for citizenship.

That five-year path is significantly shorter than that envisioned for people who came to the United States illegally as adults. That path is envisioned in the legislation to involve a wait of about 13 years. DREAMers would also be exempted from fines imposed on other immigrants.

According to a Senate aide, DREAMers who came to the United States when they were 15 or younger and have been in the country since Dec. 31 2011 would qualify. They would also need to have graduated from high school or received a GED and to pursue higher education or serve in the military.

Those who received deferred action under President Obama's action would automatically qualify for provisional legal status. And young adults who would been deported but would have qualified for the program but for the deportation could also apply.

Cesar Vargas, director of the DREAM Act Coalition, said that he considered it progress that the inclusion of the DREAM act provisions were one of the least surprising and controversial aspects of the Senate compromise progress. "DREAMers have been leading the debate," he said. "It's what's really carried us over."

Still, Vargas said his group would push for some changes. For instance, the bill envisions a 180-day lag time before any immigrants could apply for provisional legal status — time to be spent by the Department of Homeland Security devising a new plan for border security. He said DREAMers should not have to wait six months to start the process on achieving legal status.

"We want to make sure that DREAMers have the very clear path to legal status that even Republicans have advocated for," Vargas said.

This item has been updated.

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.
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