By Debra L. Stang

Imagine that you’re a teen who has just graduated from high school. Unlike your friends, you can’t take the next step into your future. You can’t join the army, or apply for a federal grant or a student loan to attend college. You can’t get a decent job. In fact, you can’t even get a driver’s license.

Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act)

The plight of children who have grown to adulthood after being illegally brought into the United States has been on the Congressional radar since 2001 when Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) first co-sponsored the DREAM Act.

According to Ben Winograd, a staff attorney with the American Immigration Council, the DREAM Act is a piece of legislation that would confer upon qualifying illegal immigrants “a valid positive immigration status” and set them on a path to permanent legal residency in the United States.

The DREAM Act has been considered by Congress at least four times since 2001, at one point garnering 48 co-sponsors from both parties, but it has never been passed by both the House and the Senate at the same time. Most recently, it was considered in 2010, when it squeaked past the House but fell five votes shy in the Senate.

The Deferred Action Option

In 2012, an election year, President Barack Obama found himself with a thorny problem. He had commanded 67 percent of the Hispanic vote during his successful bid for the White House in 2008. Since then, however, the once rock-solid alliance has begun to show cracks. Like his predecessors, President Obama had failed to shepherd the DREAM Act through Congress. Worse were the reports that began emerging in 2011, which showed that more undocumented immigrants had been deported under the Obama administration than under any other presidential administration.

In June 2012, President Obama offered an olive branch. As of August 15, 2012, undocumented young adult immigrants who met certain criteria could apply to be issued work permits and to remain in the country for two years without the threat of deportation.

This compromise was very different from the DREAM Act because it conferred upon the immigrants no valid legal status. It did not offer a first step towards permanent residency. In fact, after the 24-month grace period, the government can begin deportation proceedings against the immigrants that have signed up for deferred action.

In spite of the shaky legal status, Roy Germano, writer and director of the award-winning documentary The Other Side of Immigration, does not believe that any deportations will occur. He is confident that the DREAM Act will pass within the next two years, providing permanent relief to young adults who were illegally brought into the country as children. “These young folks really didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “They deserve some sort of legal status so they can go on with their lives.”

Michael Wildes, immigration expert and managing partner of the New York City-based law firm Wildes & Weinberg, PC, believes that allowing young adult immigrants to stay and work will prove a win-win scenario. “My hope is that there is talent that will be recognized, that there are people who will eventually be given the dignity of contributing exponentially and transparently to their communities.”

He added that, “Our economy needs all hands on deck, and that includes illegal immigrants. If we don’t have the means to remove them and if ultimately they can contribute, we need to be big boys about this.”

In the meantime, the clock on the two-year deferment started ticking on August 15, 2012, leaving a generation of young immigrants—here illegally through no fault of their own—wondering if they will eventually be forced out of the only country they have ever known as home.