The Political Economy of the Dream Act and the Legislative Process: A Case Study of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

88 Pages Posted: 17 Feb 2010

Date Written: February 16, 2010


Many developments have kept the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and the issue of undocumented college students in the news and on federal and state legislative agendas. Who would have thought that presidential candidates would be debating the issue, as they did in the Republican primaries of 2007 and 2008? Especially coming on the heels of a near-miss months earlier, when the bill almost passed in the Senate, the topic is one that has all the earmarks of an agenda-building subject, situated in the complex and treacherous context of 21st century U.S. domestic politics, especially those of comprehensive immigration reform. Inasmuch as this subset of much larger immigration, higher education, and tuition policies commands recurrent attention, DREAM Act politics is a useful bellwether for observers of these domains.

This article updates and amplifies upon several earlier studies of the DREAM Act and the general topic of undocumented college residency, and to a great extent, reveals the difficulty inherent in conducting research upon pending legislation, especially one that is so fluid and so imbedded in a larger, systemic regime. Part One includes the background for the DREAM Act, at the state and federal level, including the extensive litigation and legal developments, as well as the several state DREAM Acts and other related issues concerning college residency and tuition. Part Two reviews the federal DREAM Act, and its failure to gain traction in its 2007 U.S. Senate vote. Part Three considers the politics of immigration reform that is the backdrop for these developments, and the Conclusion assesses the prospects for enactment of the legislation, either as a standalone statute or, more likely, as one of many components in the larger comprehensive immigration reform efforts. Considering how small this undocumented college student population is in the larger scheme of things, never more than 50,000 or 60,000 by any estimates, this extensive state and national legislative history reveals a surprising degree of attention in the polity and within U.S. legislative arenas. Nonetheless, it has not been able to stand on its own legs, and the odds have grown longer against its eventual enactment as a separate legislative program.

Keywords: Immigration, Legislation, Congress, Higher Education, Residency

Suggested Citation

Olivas, Michael A., The Political Economy of the Dream Act and the Legislative Process: A Case Study of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (February 16, 2010). Wayne Law Review, 2010; U of Houston Law Center No. 2010-A-6. Available at SSRN:

Michael A. Olivas (Contact Author)

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

4604 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204-6060
United States
713-743-2078 (Phone)
713-743-2085 (Fax)

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