A New Kind of Alien


The classifications for resident aliens are myriad, but if the Senate passes the immigration law it's currently considering, a new class will arise: the "conditional nonimmigrant."

Under the DREAM Act, which would allow illegal immigrants who came here as children or teenagers to eventually gain legal status, the new category exists for those who have applied but haven't yet reached the end--the young illegal immigrants stuck between legality and illegality as they try to become "legal permanent residents" and obtain green cards.

Applicants will have five years to complete the DREAM Act requirements--two years of college or military service in good standing--and then will have to apply for another five-year extension, before being able to apply for legal permanent residency.

So, for 10 years, they will live in the U.S. legally as "conditional nonimmigrants," which is something like having a green card and something like having a temporary work visa.

"Conditional nonimmigrants," under this new bill, would all be young: Illegal immigrants will have one year from their high school graduation date to apply. When the bill goes into effect, immigrants who've already graduated (say, five years ago) will have one year from when Obama signs the bill. No one over 30 would be able to apply, so, if the Senate approves it and Obama signs it in January, a host of 30-year-old, undocumented high school graduates could apply in 2011.

To get this status, immigrants would have to: graduate from high school, get a GED, or be accepted to a university; demonstrate good "moral character," in the Department of Homeland Security's eyes; not have a significant criminal record (meaning a one-year-plus prison sentence, or three convictions on three separate dates of crimes amounting to more than 90 days in jail); and pay a $2,000 application fee; plus other requirements.

This new kind of "nonimmigrant"--which, technically, refers to immigrants, who have immigrated to the U.S. from elsewhere--would be able to work in the U.S., and would be able to leave the country (but not for more than 180 days at a time) and return without problem (as long as papers are presented at customs).

They could lose this status by, among other things, becoming a public charge, getting dishonorably discharged from the armed services, or being deemed by DHS to no longer possess "good moral character."

The rights wouldn't be the same as those enjoyed by citizens or green-card holders. They couldn't vote. They wouldn't be eligible for student aid programs such as Pell grants (just certain loans and work-study programs), and they would not be eligible for health care subsidies under Obama's new health-care law.

If the Senate passes the DREAM Act and Obama signs it, 18-30 year-old illegal immigrants could become "conditional nonimmigrants" as swiftly as DHS can process their paperwork.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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