DREAMers No Longer of One Mind on Immigration Reform

Friday, June 27, 2014

Demonstration following the failure of the NY DREAM Act in March. (Von Diaz for WNYC)

June is an exciting month for graduating high school seniors. But for the thousands of young immigrants who lack legal status, graduation day can be a moment of great uncertainty. 

Undocumented youth have been on the front lines of the struggle for immigrant rights. They call themselves DREAMers to evoke both the proposed federal DREAM Act and a hope that they, too, can achieve the American Dream.

But the DREAMer movement is in flux. Once monolithic, it is now fragmented, because frustration at the slow pace of progress has reached a new high. One reason is that the federal DREAM Act has yet to be enacted more than a decade after it was first introduced. Locally, the New York Senate earlier this year narrowly defeated the proposed state Dream Act, which would have provided college aid to undocumented students — an estimated 90,000 young immigrants would have been eligible. And this week, in response to growing concerns about thousands of unaccompanied immigrant minors who illegally crossed the border into the U.S., Republican lawmakers called on President Obama to deport DREAMers, even if they've been granted a temporary reprieve from deportation or deferred action. 

As a result of the federal and local immigration reform impasse, growing numbers of young immigrant activists are questioning the core goals of the DREAMer movement.

Among them is Razeen Zaman, who came to the United States with her family from Bangladesh 22 years ago. Her family fled political violence, she said, and later fell out of legal status in the U.S. after an immigration attorney scammed them. Today she’s a law student at Fordham University and and no longer refers to herself as a DREAMer.

“It creates a special elitist divide, where we create one category of deserving peopl, who deserve a better, a faster, an easier pathway to citizenship; and everyone else is somehow made undeserving,” she said.

Another former DREAMer is Claudia Muñoz, who grew up in Monterrey, Mexico, and moved to Houston, Texas at 16. She once fought for comprehensive immigration reform, but last year — after a family member was nearly deported — Muñoz turned herself in at the Calhoun County Correctional Facility near Detroit to organize detainees from within and document the conditions they were living in.

Her experience in the detention center and the experience her family has had with the immigration system in the U.S. has made her skeptical of the goals of immigration reform activism. “That trauma they now have over deportation — papers can’t fix. And there’s a lot of things that papers can’t fix,” she said.

Thousands still continue to fight for comprehensive immigration reform. But the struggle for immigrant rights is changing once again.


Von Diaz comes to us from Feet in 2 Worlds, a project that brings the work of immigrant journalists to public radio. A longer text version of this piece is available on their website.


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Comments [4]

Go away

All of those who are "undocumented and unafraid" should be placed first in line for buses and planes used to deport them from this country.

Imagine people driving around in cars with bumper stickers reading "uninsured and unafraid." What would you like the police to do? Let them keep driving?

I'm pro immigrant, pro diversity, pro tamale and falafel and dumpling.

I'm also pro "get off my lawn" and pro "get in line."

I really don't care if people who have routinely flouted immigration laws get deported.

Please deport more of them. Yes, I said "them."

Jun. 27 2014 05:07 PM

Pretty convenient that as the "dreamers" age out of the program they pushed, they have a new found respect for inclusiveness. So Munoz turns herself in and rather than deport her - she is released back into the US. Start deporting those here illegally!! Why should NYer's pay for 80,000 illegals to attend college. We can not afford to send our own citizens to college. Why don't these "activists" try to achieve change in their home country.

Jun. 27 2014 08:38 AM
Daniel N Penaloza from East Brunswick, NJ

As someone who is of Spanish descent, I am APPALLED at the unfounded "rights" these people are seeking. People, you are here ILLEGALLY, you BROKE the LAW - this is a country of LAWS!!! You DO take resources away from us, TAXPAYERS, legally living in the USA and PROUD to be AMERICANS - this is our country, not the place where we feel comfortable, we take the good with the bad every day.

I have been to Latin America and seen at 5 AM, in the cold, in the heat, lines of individuals outside the Embassies of the USA (also Canada and European countries). All holding documentation, many making a long trip to their Capital city they can barely afford. Many already have professions, many speak the English, and all understand they are coming to a country of Laws - which is not the case of where they were born.

Knowing you defy the Laws of the USA and make the population of the USA wonder why should you stay? What is special about you? Many of these "dreamers" demand Free Higher Education? (Not even the American Indian demands this - and they have the absolute right to ask for this life improvement - I CANNOT GO TO U.C.L.A. and tell them register me at a California resident rates and look for grants for me - PRONTO!). Now, being a Bi-Lingual country - which is a myth, for most Hispanics are not fluent in EITHER language - WHY? the concept DIVIDES countries - examples: Belgium, Canada, former Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, etc ... having multi-lingual documentation and services IS EXPENSIVE and UNNECESSARY.

When will you start blaming your parents for messing up your life? For those who did finish your Higher Education, why not do the noble thing and return to YOUR countries and FIX THEM?!!! I cannot go to Mexico or any country and expect to given a job, just because I say so, it's my Human Right, nor should I!

No country can allow the burden of 12,000,000 people that pick and choose laws; that loudly claim benefits they have not earned through years of taxes, and only are here for the comfort our Nation gives, not because they feel 100% American - we are tired of [fill in]-American, we need proud Americans.

STOP defying America and its people!

Jun. 27 2014 08:14 AM

Frustration at the slow pace of progress? Well now I guess you know the suffering of the tens of thousands of LEGAL immigrants hoping to get permanent residency after blowing a small fortune on American education or slaving away as an H1B for years...but you guys definitely have that American sense of entitlement down pat!

Jun. 27 2014 07:29 AM

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