Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - June 21, 2013

Immigration legislation and policy primer

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

The federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, implemented in June 2012, allows undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements to live and work in the United States. Requirements include that they came to the United States under the age of 16, have lived continuously in the U.S. for five years prior to the implementation of the Deferred Action policy, are currently in school or have graduated from high school, have obtained a general-education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and have not been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor.

Deferred Action status is subject to renewal after two years. The first week of June, the House approved a homeland-security spending bill that cuts funding for the program. It would not be critical for Deferred Action to continue if the Senate and House pass reform bills as currently proposed.

California Dream Act

The California Dream Act, passed in June 2011, is a two-part package of state laws. It allows undocumented students who meet certain criteria to apply for and receive a range of financial aid: private scholarships through public universities, state-administered financial aid, university grants and community-college fee waivers. The criteria are laid out by AB540, a law passed in 2001 that allows students to pay the same tuition and fees as resident students at California public colleges and universities. Eligible students must: have attended a California high school for a minimum of three years; graduated from a California high school, pass the California High School Proficiency Exam or get a GED; enroll in an accredited California institution of higher education; and have filed an application (or an affidavit stating their plan to file) to legalize their status as soon as they are eligible to do so, if they are without legal status. To get a Cal Grant, they must also meet all other Cal Grant eligibility criteria.

Federal DREAM Act

The federal DREAM Act (an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) is a proposal to provide legal status to undocumented youth who entered the United States as children, graduated from U.S. high schools and attend college or enter the military. It would remove a federal penalty against states that provide in-state tuition without regard for immigration status, according to the National Immigration Law Center. The legislation was first proposed in August 2001 and last introduced in Congress in May 2011. It has yet to pass.

Current immigration-reform legislation

The proposed Senate immigration-reform bill (Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act) was released on April 17. It offers three main updates to current legislation: a 13-year path to citizenship for immigrants who have been living in the United States illegally, an increase in border enforcement, and a nationwide mandatory requirement for all employers to check the legal status of new hires. It would also allow immigrants who came to the United States as children to become citizens after five years.

The bill's path to citizenship is marked by many requirements and phases of eligibility. Six months after the bill is enacted, undocumented immigrants who meet these requirements would be able to apply for registered provisional immigrant status. They would be able to work and travel legally. The bill proposes they spend a minimum of 10 years with this status. Immigrants with provisional status would not be eligible for any federal benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps or federal housing aid.

Other provisions include:

* A revamped green-card process that includes a program that awards points for applicants' skills, education, family ties and the amount of time they've lived in the United States.

* An increase of the nation's annual caps on temporary, high-skilled visas, or H-1B, allowing more employees in technology and science fields.

* The creation of two new guest-worker programs, one for farmworkers and another for low-wage laborers.

* The elimination of a provision that allows siblings of U.S. citizens to apply for green cards.

* A provision that allows immigrants who have been deported for noncriminal reasons to apply to return, if they have spouses or minor children in the United States.

A bipartisan group in the House has been working on its own version of a comprehensive immigration bill, which has yet to be introduced.

— Elena Kadvany

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