Five Ways the American Dream and Promise Act Helps Children and Families
By Wendy Cervantes and Vanessa Meraz
On March 3, 2021, Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Nydia Velazquez (NY-07), and Yvette Clarke (NY-09) reintroduced the American Dream and Promise Act, or H.R. 6, in the House of Representatives. If signed into law, this bill would provide a path to lawful permanent residency and citizenship for Dreamers–undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children– and other immigrants who call this country home.
H.R. 6 has several provisions that would promote the safety and wellbeing of beneficiaries–many of whom are youth themselves–as well as their children and families. Here are a few:
1. Puts More Dreamers on a Path to Citizenship
H.R. 6 includes several improvements that expand eligibility to more Dreamers than previous versions of the bill. To qualify for relief, applicants must have been 18 or younger when they first entered the country and physically present since January 1, 2021 (rather than several years before bill enactment). The bill also extends protections to the children of E and H visa holders who otherwise would age out of their lawful status, providing eligibility for relief under the bill to 190,000 additional children and youth. Together, these positive changes mean an estimated 2.3 million Dreamers are expected to ultimately get on a path to citizenship.
2. Provides an Expedited Path to Citizenship for DACA beneficiaries
The bill also enables 640,000 current beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to immediately adjust for Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)—or green card—status. DACA recipients have been contributing to our communities and strengthening our economy, including serving in critical essential roles during the pandemic. They are also parents to more than a quarter-million U.S. citizen children, many of whom are very young. By ensuring DACA recipients are able to immediately qualify for green cards, the bill will enable DACA holders and their families to finally achieve permanent stability after several years of uncertainty.
3. Extends Path to Citizenship to TPS and DED Holders
H.R. 6 also extends a path to citizenship to people with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), the majority of whom have lived here for decades, have deep roots in their communities, and have raised their children here. More than a quarter-million U.S. citizen children live in households with family members who have TPS. Providing people with TPS and DED a path to citizenship will help pull their families out of limbo and give them peace of mind and security.
4. Makes Higher Education More Affordable for Dreamers
New American Economy estimates that more than 450,000 undocumented students are currently enrolled in higher education, and the Migration Policy Institute estimates that nearly 100,000 undocumented youth graduate from U.S. high schools every year. H.R. 6 includes provisions that would help ease financial barriers to higher education for Dreamers, many of whom are first-generation college students and often lack access to federal financial aid and other forms of assistance. The bill restores states’ ability to determine in-state tuition eligibility for undocumented immigrants based on residence without penalties under current law. This provision is critical to ensure that Dreamers are able to achieve their higher education goals.
5. Keeps Families Together
In the United States, more than half-a-million children have at least one parent who is a DACA recipient or lives with a family member who is a TPS holder. By putting people on a pathway to citizenship, they and their family members will no longer have to live in fear of possible separation due to immigration enforcement. Research shows that fear of separation alone can create toxic stress for young children, and children who are left behind face significant harms to their mental and physical health, economic security, and overall development. It’s also important to note that H.R. 6 includes a path to citizenship through employment—in addition to the higher education and military service paths—which is critical for working parents. Keeping families together, providing them long-term stability, and enabling parents to better provide for their children is simply the right thing to do.
While legislators made several changes to the bill that have made it more inclusive of undocumented immigrants in need of permanent relief, H.R. 6 continues to fall short in a few critical ways. For instance, the bill’s strict criminal bars remain unchanged, excluding immigrant youth who have been targeted by racial profiling and who have been previously involved—often unjustly—in our criminal legal system. H.R. 6 also does not provide a path to citizenship, nor protection from deportation, for undocumented children—or “Little Dreamers”–who are too young to meet the education, military service, or employment requirements of the bill.
Though it has room for improvement, changes to H.R. 6 would provide protection for more than an estimated four million people, including TPS holders, DACA recipients, and DED holders. The time to provide permanent protections to all undocumented immigrants is now, and passage of the American Dream and Promise Act is a critical first step.