Earlier this month, with much fanfare, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its most significant immigration legislation in years, popularly known as the Dream Act. The bill, versions of which have been in the works for nearly two decades, would create a path to citizenship for Dreamers, the more than two million undocumented immigrants nationwide who were brought to the U.S. as children.

By Eli Hager

Yet because of a little-noticed late change to the bill, some youth advocates say, it would instead make a subset of Dreamers vulnerable to deportation. In many cases, it would bar them from legal status if a judge has ever sent them to a detention facility for a juvenile offense—even a minor one such as underage drinking or shoplifting.

In the past, Congress had only deemed adult criminal convictions to be legal grounds for denying someone protection from being deported. No law has ever before required immigration officials to also weigh immigrants’ juvenile records when they apply for asylum, visas or any other form of permanent residency status.

“It’s the whole reason we created a separate juvenile court system, because things you do as a child shouldn’t be held over you for the rest of your life,” said Marcy Mistrett, CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice, an advocacy group.

But now the Dream Act—of all legislation—could end up doing just that, Mistrett said.

The bill has little chance of making it through the Republican-controlled Senate, given that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has called himself the “grim reaper” of Democratic legislation. But youth advocates say that even mentioning juvenile records in immigration law opens a Pandora’s box for vulnerable young people, and that passing the bill with such language will make it difficult to negotiate for anything better in the future.

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