Undocumented
immigrant youths grew up in the United States just like any other American
child. They were raised here, learned to speak the English language, they went
to school, learned about American history and government and embraced the
American culture. They knew the United States as their home country. Until they
had to apply for work permits or driver’s license or open a bank account, that
they had to submit a proof of residency. These processes weren’t easy for the
undocumented immigrants and all of a sudden felt like maybe they don’t belong
here. As mentioned by Walter Nicholls in his book The DREAMers: How the
Undocumented Youth Movement Transformed the Immigrant Rights Debate, one
undocumented youth only realized he was undocumented at 17 years old, when his
parents told him he didn’t have social security and he can’t finish his
application for financial aid for college. Just like that, this young person
felt alone, didn’t know what to do about it and didn’t know who to blame. (48)

 

The
undocumented immigrant youths experienced similar things but did not have an
established political label or group. There are several campaigns led by state
legislators and bigger associations that are fighting for immigration rights
for years and years. However, there were no political voice or infrastructure
to address the connection with youths who were raised here but are struggling
because they don’t receive the same privileges. Until in the early 2000s,
associations such as National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and Center for
Community College addressed this issue to Congress to raise awareness of the
situation of undocumented immigrant youths in the United States. They played an
important role by proposing the DREAM Act directly to the government, which
will help represent the undocumented youths in the United States (Nichols, 48)

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Finally in the
2000s, the DREAMers youth activists emerged and became an important part of the
immigrant rights movement. The organizations supporting the movement believed
that they needed to build a connection between American core values and the
undocumented youths. They had three main points on why they deserve to be here:
the undocumented youth immigrants have assimilated, representing themselves as
any other American– embracing the American symbols and learning about American
history and government. They want to convince everyone that are just normal
people who perform the same activities and eat the same American foods like
burgers, fries etc. Secondly, they also wanted to show that the undocumented
youth immigrants are intelligent, talented, and are hardworking individuals who
could do great things in the future. DREAMers and supporters also argued that
they are not a threat to this country, rather an asset who “stand to make an
important contribution to the country” (Nicholls, 52). Lastly, supporters mentioned
that these undocumented youth cannot be accused of being guilty of something
that they did not choose to do. It was not their intention to cross the border and
it was not their fault that they are here. Hence, they are not doing anything
illegal and cannot be called out for breaking the law (Nicholls, 53). The bigger
organizations supported these reasons and wanted to train youth activists or
DREAMers to portray the same message and views of their situation for every
campaign.  According to Nicholls, youth
activists were disciplined to remember these compelling represenations of a
good immigrant—they are just a normal American, talk about being the best and
the brightest and wanting to contribute to the country, being pro-America, and
the emotional story of how they are not doing anything illegal. By constantly
repeating and connecting these altogether in campaigns, it provided activists a
strong argument and erasing the bad stereotypes of immigrants (Nicholls, 54)

According to
Nicholls, DREAMers sought to become an independent group within the immigrant
rights movement because they were not contented with being subordinate to
larger immigrant rights associations (74). In the beginning of this movement,
they were inexperienced and needed training for public speaking and doing
campaigns. They were young and afraid of getting arrested or deported for
speaking about being undocumented immigrants. They were backed up by larger
organizations and were provided for training and seminars to make sure the
youth activists are ready for the public. They were taught what to say in
campaigns and did not really represent themselves. As they grew and learned
knowledge and skills, they finally felt ready to become an independent group.

They realized they are no longer children of the immigrant rights movement and
should stop asking for support from bigger organizations.  They wanted to become leaders and start taking
responsibility with making decisions. They were confident that they have
sufficient training and gained power to compel the public and the government. They
also felt like some DREAMers are left out because of the messages created by leading
associations. It focused on the “good” youth immigrants and made others look
bad and less deserving of privileges in America. They wanted to represent the
whole population of undocumented immigrants versus only focusing on the
university graduates and the assertive ones. These DREAMers separated from
their supporters and created their own message for their cause. (Nichols, p.74)

By pointing out the positive attributes of the undocumented
youths, the DREAMers gained more support and power. Their intention was to reassure
Americans that they are good immigrants and they know their place in this
country. They were told to relay this message to give a good impression and possibly
end hostility from other Americans. The public liked the image they were
representing and the youths were seen as “good” immigrants. People thought they
were deserving of legal status. However, for those who did not have these
special characteristics, it created a dilemma that maybe they are less
deserving to be in the country.

 

So as the new DREAMers no longer
receive guidance from their traditional supporters, they no longer preach what
their supporters wanted them to say. They have developed independence and
initiative. They wanted to create a new method and relay a new message to the
public that will help the all of undocumented immigrant youths. In the past,
the DREAMers were told to defend themselves and to talk about how it wasn’t
their fault they were brought to the United States. Now, instead of blaming
their parents, they wanted to also protect their parents from being blamed.

They proudly talked about how their parents were courageous and brave for doing
everything they can to give their families a better future. That it is really
no one’s fault for trying to protect their children. They also started a  campaign with the slogan “I exist” and
“Undocumented and Unafraid” where they stress the importance of coming out of
the shadows and voicing out for their concerns (Nicholls, 121). They wanted to
let everyone know they are not alone in this and encourage for them to come out
and tell everyone about their status. Those who stayed with larger immigrant
rights associations are now faced with a new problem if they should start
speaking for their own behalf. Not only they are fighting for their residency
status but also wanting to be recognized as leaders in this political
movement.  The “I exist!” message was also
catered as an encouragement for gay and female undocumented youths who
experience daily struggles because of discrimination. Finally, these youths are
empowered to come out of the shadows and join the movement which made the
DREAMers even stronger than ever.

 

The new DREAMers and supporters were
not afraid to start all over again now that they have the public’s attention
and gained some knowledge of what’s ahead of them. In fact, they wanted to
start fresh and get as much people as possible to help support the cause. They
agreed to start from bottom up — meaning starting small with their local
communities. They reached out to their own friends and families, organizations
like public schools and churches for assistance. Then eventually they branched
out from city to city, then eventually neighbor states.

 

The state and local communities who support DREAMers also helped
them get other undocumented youth in contact with each other as they recruit
youths from different places. The California Dream Network organization was
created as a support group for the undocumented youths. They held meetings for them
to meet and connect with people who may just be in the same boat as them.  This became an important step to help expand
the DREAMers community. It provided for a safe space for them to open up, share
thoughts, experiences and be honest with their feelings. The organization also
provided for retreats and invited them to conventions to hear other
undocumented immigrants’ stories and learn from them. This is important for
building a strong bond in the youth community and to talk about what they can
do to help strengthen the cause. They also develop plans to overcome the
struggles of being an undocumented youth in their community and in US overall.

 

As the result
of the DREAMER’s new strategies and delivering a new message, certain cities
started to resist the rules that were made against undocumented immigrants.

They established themselves as “sanctuary cities” and made services and
privileges available to undocumented immigrants. It encouraged more cities and
pro-immigrants to plan for laws which can help undocumented college students
with tuition and for applying for driver’s license etc.

 

Since starting
with the problems in a local level, it made it easier for undocumented youth
who are in lower socio-economic class to participate as they do not have to
have the power to speak to the higher up or have to travel far to do campaigns.

In California, DREAM activists from the Los Angeles Dream Team and the
California Dream Network help pass two smaller bills for undocumented youths
who wish to futher their education and go to college or universities. The bill
that was passed in 2001 which was A.B. 540 only allowed undocumented youth
immigrants to pay in-state fees for higher education (Nicholls p. 150). It did
not mention if undocumented youths can actually apply for financial aid. And in
the 2000s, the tuition fees have tripled and it became a problem for youths to
go to school. So the DREAMers organized a plan by holding media events and
doing campaigns all over Los Angeles and received support from UCLA labor
unions as well.  With all the help of
supporters state-wide, the bill was approved and allowed undocumented youths to
apply for financial aid and receive grants from the state if eligible.

DREAMers also
had a goal of requesting for “administrative relief” for “low-priority”
immigrants in hopes that they will have a somewhat normal life in the United
States. The pro-immigrant supporters shifted their focus from state-level to
reaching out to the federal government. They did this by directly asking the
president to provide low-priority undocumented immigrants a temporary legal
status so that they can at least receive work permits and have limited access
to rights and privileges (Nichols p.151). However, it was not reinforced enough
causing DREAM activists all over the country to push harder and aim the
campaign at Homeland Security and Immigration officials, pressuring the
president to stop deportation and give DREAM-eligible youths a chance at administrative
relief. With the help of DREAMERs’ supporters such as Labor Center, NDLON,
IDESPCA, and UCLA Labor Center, they were able to have the supplies, equipments
and advising they needed for their campaigns (Nichols, 152). Eventually, the
president responded to the actions made by antienforcement and youth activists,
granting eligible persons and DREAM eligible youths a “low-priority” status.

 

Another
achievement of the DREAMers is pushing for deferred action status to DREAM-eligible
immigrants in spring 2012 (Nicholls, 153). They did this during a time when
President Obama needed the security of Latin-Americans in able to win the
reelection. He then signed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals which gave
temporary status and work authorization to those who are eligible following the
criteria. However, most of the people who would’ve gotten approved didn’t apply
in fear that this can all change once the president decides to revoke this
privilege. Then, they will be exposed and can be possible deported. Even then,
the passage of DACA was believed to be a stepping stone for immigrant youths.

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