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New MPI Estimates: As Many as 2.1 Million Young People Could Be Eligible for the DREAM Act, Though Far Fewer Would Meet its Education or Military Service Requirements for Legalization

Press Release
Thursday, July 8, 2010

New MPI Estimates: As Many as 2.1 Million Young People Could Be Eligible for the DREAM Act, Though Far Fewer Would Meet its Education or Military Service Requirements for Legalization

WASHINGTON — Slightly more than 2.1 million unauthorized immigrant youth and young adults could be eligible to apply for legal status under the DREAM Act legislation pending in Congress, according to a new Migration Policy Institute analysis that offers the most recent and detailed estimates of potential beneficiaries by age, education levels, gender, state of residence and likelihood of gaining legalization.

Prepared by MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy, DREAM vs. Reality: An Analysis of Potential DREAM Act Beneficiaries, makes clear, however, that far fewer people would likely obtain legal status because of barriers limiting their ability to take advantage of the legislation’s educational and military routes to legalization. In the report, authors Jeanne Batalova and Margie McHugh estimate that only 38 percent — or 825,000 — of the 2.1 million potentially eligible DREAM Act beneficiaries likely would gain permanent legal status.

“Many potential DREAM Act beneficiaries would face difficulties in meeting the legislation’s higher education or military service requirements because of hardship paying for college tuition, competing work and family time demands and low educational attainment and English proficiency,” said McHugh, who is co-director of MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy.

According to the analysis, enactment of the DREAM Act would :

  • Immediately make 726,000 unauthorized young adults who meet the legislation’s age, duration of U.S. residency and age at arrival requirements eligible for conditional legal status (with roughly 114,000 of them already eligible for permanent legal status after the six-year wait because they have at least an associate’s degree).
  • Allow 934,000 children under 18 to age into conditional-status eligibility in the future, provided they earn a U.S. high school diploma or GED.
  • Extend the possibility of conditional status, provided certain educational milestones are achieved, to another 489,000 unauthorized immigrants between ages 18-34 who meet the legislation’s age and residency requirements but lack a high school diploma or GED.

Three-quarters of potential DREAM Act beneficiaries reside in 10 states – led by California with 553,000 (or 26 percent of total); Texas, 258,000 (12 percent); Florida, 192,000 (9 percent); New York, 146,000 (7 percent); and Arizona, 114,000 (5 percent). The other top 10 states are: Illinois (95,000); New Jersey (90,000); Georgia (74,000); North Carolina (51,000); and Colorado (46,000). The report also provides estimates for Virginia, Nevada, Maryland, Oregon, Utah and Nebraska.

The report shows DREAM Act implementation would clearly affect some states more than others, given the fact that three-quarters of potential beneficiaries live in just 10 states. Access to educational opportunities for DREAM Act beneficiaries also could vary from state to state because of significant differences in college enrollment practices and tuition policies.

“While most of the potential DREAM Act beneficiaries reside in traditional immigrant destination states such as California and Texas, it’s interesting that the legislation could touch the lives of more Hispanic youth and young adults proportionately in new destination states such as Nevada, Oregon, Maryland, Georgia and North Carolina,” said Batalova, an MPI policy analyst. “More than one in 10 Hispanics under age 35 in those new destination states potentially would stand to benefit from passage of the DREAM Act.”

The report also provides analysis of the income levels, labor force participation rates and other characteristics for the potential DREAM Act population.

“All in all, our analysis shows that a significant number of unauthorized immigrant youth would likely be able to meet the law's tough requirements for permanent legal status,” said McHugh. “The investments they would be required to make in their education or military service on the path to permanent legal status would ensure that they are well integrated into U.S. society and bring important skills and training to the U.S. workforce.”
 
The report analyzes the DREAM Act legislation which was introduced in 2009 and could be considered by the Senate as early as this month. The bill, formally known as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would allow unauthorized immigrants to apply for legal permanent resident status on a conditional basis if, upon enactment of the law, they are: under the age of 35, arrived in the United States before the age of 16, have lived in the United States for at least the last five years and have obtained a U.S. high school diploma or GED. The conditional basis of their status would be removed in six years if they successfully complete at least two years of post-secondary education or military service and if they maintain good moral character during that period.

The DREAM Act report is available here.

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The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels.