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Why Are the Dreamers Called the Dreamers?

By David Hawkings and Thomas McKinless

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Congress is continuing its debate on immigration this week during an ongoing furor over the Trump administration’s family separation approach to border security. Senior editor David Hawkings takes a look at the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy put in place by President Barack Obama and rescinded by President Donald Trump and how it affected the so-called Dreamers, named for a long-embattled bill that was never signed into law. Below is a transcript of the video. HAWKINGS: Congress is taking another shot this summer at an immigration bill, with the central feature addressing the fate of “Dreamers” under DACA. So it’s time to decode precisely what those two terms mean. So who are the Dreamers, and how did they get that name? These are the undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States, by their parents or other adults, back when they were children — before their 18th birthdays. And there may be as many as 3.6 million of them, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute — or one-third of all the people technically in the country illegally. They get their current label from legislation, first proposed way back in 2001, that was designed to give those who had arrived illegally as children a path to permanent legal residency, and in some cases citizenship. The bill was called the DREAM Act, which was a cleverly constructed acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. The measure has never passed, but the Dreamer label has stuck. So then, what is DACA? It’s another acronym, for starters. It’s the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. President Obama created it in 2012 after the continued impasse over the DREAM Act seemed to be locked down permanently. OBAMA: The Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people. HAWKINGS: DACA allows Dreamers to apply to legally live, get driver’s licenses, study and work in the United States — by deferring their deportations for two years at a time. But every two years, they have to apply for a renewal. There is no path to citizenship. And there are plenty of other conditions. Recipients had to be younger than 31 when the program began. They had to be “undocumented,” meaning without papers proving legal immigration status. They must have arrived in the U.S. before turning 16 and lived there continuously since June 2007. They had to be enrolled in high school or already have their diploma or their GED. And anyone with a serious criminal history — a felony or several misdemeanor convictions — was not eligible. Almost 800,000 Dreamers went through the vetting process and got admitted before President Trump called a halt to the program last September, telling Congress it was their job to make such immigration policies, not a president’s. TRUMP: I have a love for these people, and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly. HAWKINGS: By far the biggest bloc of DACA beneficiaries are from Mexico — with El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras next. The largest numbers live in California, Texas, Florida and New York. So here’s maybe the first thing you need to remember about immigration policy, as you’re watching Congress keep spinning its wheels and as a decision about whether the Hill or the president gets to decide the fate of the Dreamers moves inevitably toward the Supreme Court. All the people who benefit from DACA are Dreamers. But less than a quarter of the Dreamers are now part of DACA.

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