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Legalization for DREAMers Would Result in Chain Migration of an Average of 1 Person or Less Over a Lifetime—Far Fewer than Critics Suggest, MPI Estimates
Press Release
Thursday, November 30, 2017

Legalization for DREAMers Would Result in Chain Migration of an Average of 1 Person or Less Over a Lifetime—Far Fewer than Critics Suggest, MPI Estimates

WASHINGTON — With Congress facing growing calls to pass DREAM Act-type legislation before the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program expires, critics are arguing that legalization would spur vast new “chain migration” because DREAMers could eventually sponsor their family members for green cards. In fact, they argue that each unauthorized immigrant legalized via the DREAM Act could sponsor as many as 6.4 relatives, on average, for legal permanent residence.

But Migration Policy Institute (MPI) researchers estimate that the reality would be a far cry from those numbers, and that the average DREAM Act recipient would sponsor at most about 0.65 to 1.03 family members over his or her lifetime.

As they explain in a new commentary, DREAMers have far different characteristics than most green-card holders. For example, their arrival as children in the United States means they are quite unlikely, as adults, to have had children born outside the country or to have married someone entitled to sponsorship for a green card.

Researchers Julia Gelatt and Randy Capps also note that family immigration sponsorship prospects for DREAMers are more limited than those for earlier immigrant arrivals, in part because of 1996 immigration law changes that significantly restricted the ability of most immigrants staying in the United States unlawfully for a period of months or more to legalize their status. Existing visa backlogs in certain categories, which can extend two decades for family preference green cards from some countries, would also significantly limit the number of people DREAMers could successfully sponsor. And because many DREAMers live in mixed-status families where a sibling or other relative is a U.S. citizen, their parents and siblings already have a pathway to apply for a green card, without DREAM Act-type legislation.

A detailed methodological appendix outlines ranges by family category based on five key DREAM Act-type bills that are pending in Congress. The bills, while varying in their particulars, would offer legalization to unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, provided they meet educational achievement and other criteria, including years of U.S. residence and passing a criminal background check.

The bills—the Recognizing America’s Children Act; the DREAM Act of 2017; the American Hope Act; the Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, Education, and Defending our Nation Act (SUCCEED Act); and the Border Security and Deferred Action Recipient Relief Act—would initially offer a period of conditional permanent residence, during which recipients could earn a path to a green card by meeting education, military or continuous employment requirements.

While DREAMers would be able to sponsor spouses for a green card under some of the bills after earning legal status, they would have to wait to become U.S. citizens before being able to sponsor other categories of relatives, including parents and siblings.

“The current debate over the DREAM Act should reflect a realistic, evidence-based assessment of the likely family immigration impacts for this unique population rather than mechanistically using earlier estimates for different populations—or reaching well beyond that,” said Doris Meissner, who heads MPI’s U.S. immigration policy program.

Read the commentary, “Legalization for DREAMers: A Realistic Appraisal of Potential Chain Migration,” and accompanying detailed methodology here: www.migrationpolicy.org/news/legalization-dreamers-realistic-appraisal-potential-chain-migration.

And for MPI’s estimates of the populations that could gain legalization under the five key DREAM-Act type bills, see: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/differing-dreams-estimating-unauthorized-populations-could-benefit-under-different.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) 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 local, national and international levels.