How the “Dreamers” turned into a movement with power
Until a few years ago, the “Dreamers”,
who were brought in the United States as children,
studied or are studying there and speak English fluently,
were just one more segment of undocumented immigrants.
Today they’re the most accepted, even beloved of migrants.
There are 800,000 of them, mostly Mexicans and Central Americans.
They’re also a powerful movement that’s fighting for all “illegal” people.
How did they get to that place?
José Luis Rocha
On September 5, Donald Trump canceled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In the blink of an eye, the word DACA, until then used only by beneficiaries and a few others, became a well-known and used word by many who had never even heard it before. What Obama didn’t accomplish with DACA’s approval, Trump did with his rejection. The suspension was just another of the anti-immigrant measures Trump has been applying since he took over the Oval Office, and without doubt the one that has unleashed the most protests and condemnations.
These reactions aren’t due only to the number of those immediately affected, about 800,000 young people, or to those potentially affected, who could be over 5 million. They are also due to the fact that the program had given wings to a movement—that of the “Dreamers”—that arose out of the undocumented immigrants’ non-movement. The “DACA¬mented,” a single segment of undocumented immigrants, has been the most acceptable portion of an apple some judge as rotten. How did they get to this place? How was the label constructed that made one group of “illegals” socially acceptable?
Who are the Dreamers?
The Dreamers are a special group of undocumented immigrants among whom Central Americans have an important presence. The term comes from the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (Dream) Act, a bipartisan bill originally sponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Richard Durbin (D-Illinois in 2001. This bill sought to ease the entry of undocumented minors with a high school degree or close to receiving one, into institutions of higher education. According to Susan Martin, a researcher from Georgetown University, these students had a hard time getting jobs and being able to continue their studies due to the high cost of going to college. The Dream Act would authorize the states they lived in to grant them residency so they would have access to the preferential in-state fees as residents, independent of their immigration status. It would also suspend the possibility of deporting students admitted into a university or the armed forces. And after six years of waiting, immigrants who qualify in that category could then obtain permanent resident status.
“Dreamers”… The acronym resonates: “the American dream” and “I have a dream” by Martin Luther King. The purpose of the law was to pave the way towards education and legal residency for a segment of undocumented immigrants with tangible positive potential and incentive. The original version of the bill was submitted to a vote in 2006 as part of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (CIRA) and would have possibly benefited 2.1 million young undocumented immigrants.
But the bill did not pass. It did, however, open paths for different bills that mimicked its logic to grant conditional status to young undocumented immigrants of proven good conduct to access in-state college fees and, in the end, legal residency. The Congressional Budget Office put out a report in which it estimated that a December 2010 version of the Dream Act (H.R. 9467) would increase state income by US$1.7 billion and would reduce the deficit by about UIS$2.2 billion between 2011 and 2020.
Referring to the 2011 version (S. 952 and H.R. 1842), in which, among other parameters, the maximum age and cost for applying were modified, a study by the Center for American Progress estimated that, if approved, the Dream Act would add US$329 billion to the US economy and could create 1.4 million new jobs between the time of its approval and 2030.
An alternative to the Dream Act was the 2012 Studying Towards Adjusted Residency Status (Stars) Act (H.R. 5869), which restricted the group of potential beneficiaries even more by increasing application costs and reducing the maximum age allowed to apply from 33 to 19. Proposed by Cuban-American Republican Senator Marco Rubio from Florida, a member of the Tea Party and primary presidential candidate in 2016, the Stars Act also extended the conditional status period, the time required to get access to residency, to beyond the end of their university studies. A month after the promotion of the Stars Act, President Barack Obama announced that his administration would halt the deportation of young undocumented immigrants who filled certain criteria proposed by the Dream Act. With that executive decision the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was born. It had the potential to benefit 1.7 million young undocumented immigrants living in the US, mostly Mexicans and Central Americans, although in reality many more if we take into account the possibilities of its expansion.
California is the spearhead
Anticipating this program, the state of California approved the California Dream Act in July 2011, which grants undocumented students who arrived in the country under the age of 16 and had gone through high school, to access funds to help them pay for their higher education. Research done by the University of California at Berkeley Law School reported that 400,000 undocumented minors lived in California, the majority brought to the US before the age of 12. Very few had access to higher education as the high cost of universities is the main barrier for undocumented students. According to this study, only 1,620 undocumented students had entered California state universities in 2005.
Different analyses have emphasized the consequences legal vulnerability has on being able to get a university education or other types of preparation. This exclusion reduces the future income of a certain group of the population: a worker with a degree earns an average of US$1 million more in their lifetime than someone with just a high school degree. Therefore, the law California approved assumed it would have a domino effect and would create a workforce more prepared for the economy’s future challenges, increase consumption and provide more taxes.
Sofía Villatoro, one of the Dreamers
Sofía Villatoro, a 26-year-old Guatemalan woman, is among the Central Americans who were benefited by DACA, although first she was benefited by the Convention Against Torture (CAT). For all that, she was a step away from getting deported in 2005, to the surprise of her teachers and fellow classmates who knew her as a dedicated and outstanding student. Her father had arrived as an undocumented immigrant in 1991 and Sofía arrived eight years later when she was 9 years old, fleeing violence. She was sent by her grandmother with no other accompaniment than the coyotes she paid for Sofia’s trip, and they dropped her off at the door of her dumbstruck parents in San Francisco. In 2005, her father wanted to start his own office- and restaurant-cleaning business, but for that it was indispensable that he become legal. To accomplish this he paid thousands of dollars to some shyster lawyers who did a horrible job, leaving Sofía at the doors of deportation. Her case caught the eye of the San Francisco Chronicle and the article about her attracted a chain of favorable reactions.
However, that didn’t solve the problem. She was only one of 60,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year. The group that had migrated from Central America was relatively small, with the number of those with a high school diploma ranging from 21% Guatemalans to 26% Nicaraguans and Hondurans, with 25% Salvadorans in between. Many have no plans of going on to college.
“I always wanted to come to this university”
But Sofía had had a dream since she was a child. Sitting in a staff cafeteria for the University of San Francisco she told about her incredible journey to higher education.
“I always wanted to come to this university. I would help my father with his work and on the way to work we’d go by here. We are very Christian so my father would tell me that if I want that university, God will provide for me. He’d say: ‘If you really believe, I challenge you to get out and go pray next to the wall.’”
Sofía was afraid passers-by would stare. “‘They’re going to say I’m crazy.’ I was 14 years old, but I did it for several years. He would stop on Fulton Street and I’d get out and place my hands on the wall: ‘I surely will come to this university. I don’t know how or with what money, because I don’t have funds, but I am coming here.’
“People would stare at me as if saying, ‘What’s wrong with her?’ I’d pray and my father would watch me, and that’s when he believed me and said, ‘Wow, she really does want to go there!’ And I applied. I was accepted and one of the priests at the university wanted to meet me. He knew about my case because in my application I included the article about what happened to me published in the San Francisco Chronicle so they could see it wasn’t a lie that I had no money. I got in, with a job and everything... I graduated with a degree in psychology last year. It’s a dream come true. And now each time I pass Fulton Street, I remember.”
Sofía got her degree with a lot of sacrifice because her father became ill and she had to go to work with her family cleaning restaurants at nights. This was her parents’ job and the family’s only source of income. Now she’s studying for a Masters and has a job in the University of San Francisco.
Sofía’s condition as an undocumented immigrant awoke a series of solidarity reactions. Much of it was because she was a Dreamer, a label that was coined in 2001 but only obtained legal validation in 2012. Her story is only one among many about the impact that reaped the best label ever invented by immigrants and their allies to multiply the possibilities of social acceptance and legal validation.
Walter J. Nicholls, a specialist in urban studies, points out that the Dreamers didn’t exist as a political group before 2001. There were just hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants facing difficulties for being persons “in between” two countries.
To be a Dreamer: A powerful political label
The Dreamers are a socio-political construction aspiring to legal fulfillment. The category has proven to be a powerful ideological artifact for struggling for the inclusion of immigrants. In the same way that those who practiced civil disobedience in the 1960s invented—made visible—a victim of racial segregation when Rosa Parks went to jail, disobedient immigrants invented victims when they broke the Dreamers away from the whole group of un¬authorized immigrants.
Even though segregation and resistance had existed for a long time before Rosa Parks was arrested and even though segregation was African-Americans’ daily bread and Rosa Parks wasn’t the first to challenge it, Martin Luther King as well as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) immediately saw the great media potential of her imprisonment. Her case gave them the opportunity to present segregation to news reporters under a powerful light. It was a successful publicity blow.
Practicing civil disobedience needs such effective strikes. The non-movement of the undocumented immigrants achieved one through the construction of the Dreamers figure. Labels have the function of making visible what is otherwise unseen and abnormal, what the inertia of habit has made seem natural.
The social scientists William and Iliana Pérez observed that undocumented students all around the US adopted the Dreamers label. It and the political identity that comes with it are not only helping them reconcile their stigmatized status, but are also reinforcing their merits as students with their activism. Wearing that new label, the students are organizing, recruiting others and sharing resources. Without intending, California’s AB540 (which in 2001 allowed non-legal residents with high school degrees access to the less expensive university in-state resident fees) and the Dream Act shaped the political identities of the undocumented activist students in a way that made those laws not only represent their access to higher education and legal status, but also formal recognition of their contribution to society and a sign of support for their struggles. No other label created has carried such political effectiveness since the creation of the “asylum seekers” in the 1980s, for whom Baptist churches organized in the ABC (American Baptist Churches) and their allies fought when they sued the attorney general.
Immigration fear and panic
We can measure the effectiveness of the Dreamers label through the effects it has had on the media. Giving it the ingenious and meaningful title Covering Immigration, anthropologist Leo Chávez published a book in 2001 on media images and immigration policies. Basing his analysis on magazine covers, Chavez shows that media images reflect the popular attitude towards immigration as well as shaping national discourse around the issue. Chavéz demonstrated how the media has cultivated the fear the public feels towards immigrants. His selection of magazine covers and headlines were irrefutable.
Let’s take a look at only four headlines from different times and years: “Time bomb in Mexico. Why there’ll be no end to the invasion by ‘illegals’” in U.S. News and World Report, July 4, 1977; “America’s Uneasy New Melting Pot” in Time, June 13, 1983; “What will the U.S. be like when whites are no longer the majority?” in Time, April 9, 1990; and, best of all, “Go back where you came from,” in American Heritage, March 1994.
Panic over the loss of control at the border, the uncomfortable effects of the ethnic melting pot and the not always hidden desire of a turn towards decidedly anti-immigrant policies are central issues in magazine covers and writings. That tendency only worsened after 9/11. Time’s cover of that September 20 reflected on the one hand a verdict of the public scrutiny of “Operation Blockade” (later called “Hold the Line”), Operation Gatekeeper, Operation Safeguard, Operation Rio Grande and the like, applied during the 1990s and reinforced after the attacks, tripling the number of Border Patrol agents. On the other hand, it extols and justifies the 2004 “Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention” law, which authorized hiring 2,000 new agents per year over the next five fiscal years and the raising of additional border barriers.
From political label to media label
Eight years later, in June 2012, Time broke with that trend. This time not limiting itself to an image and an article, the magazine proposed the undocumented immigrant as “Person of the Year,” broadcasting a video in which several young undocumented immigrants defend their American-ness with impeccable English. Even though Barack Obama ended up being the person of the year, the “undocumented immigrant” achieved a considerable third place.
Which undocumented immigrants was Time referring to? The video leaves no room for doubt:, it was the Dreamers. The political label had become a media label. Numerous media started to talk about “Undocumented Americans,” a term for which there is no official definition, but one the American Psychological Association uses and explains in a splendid ten-minute video posted on its website.
These “Undocumented Americans” are a fragment of what Cuban academic and immigrant Rubén Rumbaut baptized as “Generation 1.5” in the 1980s. He and Alejandro Portes describe them as “born in foreign lands but brought to the US at an early age” and say “they are prone to maintaining their parents’ nationality as self-identification.” Since being in school and not having entered puberty are relatively floating foundations, for purposes of statistical analysis Rumbaut placed them as immigrants who arrived between the ages of 0 to 12 years, the age Rumbaut himself arrived.
From the undocumenteds’ non-movement to the “dreamers” movement
The label was of great analytical use, but it only obtained that capacity when it reappeared—in a more restricted version—as Dreamers. Among academics, the established association of Generation 1.5 was with youth gangs. In contrast, given how the Dreamers have been selected by the different versions of the Dream Act, they are a “healthy” segment of Generation 1.5. But even though they were a successive purging process, the successive Dream Acts were also politicizing. Generation 1.5 went from an analytical concept to a social-political category that gave birth to a movement.
Policymakers, activists, academics and reporters have broken off a fraction from the enormous non-movement of undocumented immigrant susceptible to taking on the form of a movement . The label created the actor. And this actor was capable of inciting greater social acceptance than the whole group of undocumented immigrants because it condensed a series of shared values and traits of “good citizen” and “assimilated immigrant”: effort, good conduct, years of residency, fluency in English, educated in the US system and, most importantly, not having infringed any laws, even immigration ones, as they were “forced” by their parents to migrate when they couldn’t oppose it.
That construction, which first began with activists and policymakers, caused a change in the media. The label motivated the contrast in the covers of Time. Between those from preceding years and those from 2012, the number of movies and documentaries favorable to undocumented immigrants multiplied. And the entertainment industry has developed greater awareness of Latinos’ acquisitive power. The mass media have come to be substantially more favorable grounds for welcoming and projecting the label of Dreamers.
From the media to the streets and from there to Congress
Introducing the label in the media was more important than introducing it in Congress. In the media it could multiply the effect on society to cultivate complicity. Manuel Castells maintains that the media “are not the fourth estate. They are more important: they are the space of power-making.” He adds that they “constitute the space where power relationships are decided between competing political and social actors. Therefore, almost all actors and messages must project themselves through the media to achieve their goals. And they have to accept the rules of media engagement, the language of the media, and media interests.”
The label played in that court and got broad coverage. And once it was catapulted by the media it achieved amazing results. The power of the media was such that this sector of the undocumented immigrants turned into an actor with so much freedom of expression it made the leap “from the streets to Congress”, as sociologist Shannon Gleeson importantly expresses, describing the journey from the “street politics” praised by Iranian sociologist Asef Bayat to “conventional politics,” in the course of which the undocumented immigrants’ non-movement is transmuted into the Dreamers movement. Only after their debut in the media did this exercise occur, translating into an avalanche of press conferences with the Dreamers, into seminars, petitions to congresspeople, letters with personal stories, testimonies before legislative committees, vigils, fasts and explicit acts of civil disobedience, all of which received broad media coverage.
Alex and Héctor: War veterans who committed crimes
The Dreamer category had by then become a socio-political, legal and media construction. In those engaged in ideological battles who know how to take advantage of influential archetypes, the effectiveness of this label can be weighed in contrast with that of associations of immigrant war veterans, who protest every Sunday, wearing their snazzy military uniforms and shining metals, at the Tijuana/San Diego border and other points along the southwest border.
The most important group is Veterans without Borders, made up of 30 war veterans who had once been legal residents but were deported to Tijuana for having committed some type of crime. All of them consider themselves citizens with full rights for having risked their hides in defense of the United States, even though they now can’t even collect their military pension or access medical and social security benefits. Their protest is to request a hearing with the White House.
Alex Murillo is one such case. He served in the US Army from 1996 to 2000. He’s 36 years old and has four children (17, 14, 12 and 8 years old), who are still in the US. He was living in Phoenix, Arizona, when he was deported in 2006. Murillo told me, “Several veterans from different countries around the world have been deported, but we are Americans. We are veterans of the United States Armed Forces. We belong to the US and we should be at home. Right now we are fighting to go back to our country and our families. The Army has washed its hands; it blames the President or immigration laws. What happens is that if you commit a crime for which your sentence is more than 365 days and you aren’t a US citizen, you get deported after paying your debt to society. We paid the debt to the same society we were willing to give our lives for as members of the armed forces.”
Héctor López, a 50-year-old veteran deported in 2007, adds, “By federal law, we have to be buried in the US veterans’ graveyard when we die. We can go back dead, but not alive.” When I asked him what war he had fought in, he answered, “In Reagan’s.” Never better said. The war didn’t seem to him like an institutional issue of a State that one day asks them to risk their lives and the next ignores them.
“Veteran” is a weaker label
The different versions of the Dream Act have paved the way towards legal residency for non-authorized immigrants who enter college or enroll in the Army, but all versions have included the requirement of good conduct. Up to two misdemeanors could be tolerated, but either a third or only one crime was enough to disqualify an applicant.
The expelled veterans—originally in a better position than the Dreamers—are some 3,000 legal residents who ended up being treated as more undesirable than any of the illegals. They were affected by the excessive overlap between penal legislation and immigrant legislation. Once residents born outside the country commit a crime, the Court reviews their immigration records. The fact that they were born in another country annuls their right to reside in the US and dismisses their services rendered in Vietnam, Panama, Kosovo, the Golf War, Iraq and Afghanistan.
They’re another segment of Generation 1.5. Some arrived as infants and had lived 30, 40 years in the US. Some had to learn or relearn Spanish. They haven’t been granted that great American right to freedom of speech. The label “veteran” isn’t powerful enough to get them a hearing in the White House and their coverage in the media basically amounts to a yearly reference in local newspapers.
The Dreamers’ struggleis to include the others
As soon as the Dreamers were winnowed out from the mass of undocumented immigrants, forming a subgroup within that giant non-movement, they were able to become a movement. And that’s when they began to use the freedom of speech acquired with their media-publicized label. To their credit, they used both that label and their clean records to fight for undocumented immigrants in general.
Shannon Gleeson, an associate professor of Latino studies, argues that one of the things that aroused this movement of undocumented students has been the question of whether individuals brought to the US illegally during their childhood should be punished for the “sins” of their parents. This could have led to a dangerous dichotomy: guilty parents who forced their children to migrate; parents who do not speak English with children who speak like any native; uneducated parents with children who have expectations of being university students. A dangerous dividing line was being drawn within the non-movement of undocumented immigrants, one that would separate legalizable from unlegalizable immigrants, a cleavage, says associate professor of urban planning and public policy Walter J. Nicholls, “between immigrants who deserve legalization and those who deserve deportation.”
But that line didn’t get drawn in stone; the Dreamers’ struggle to include their parents started immediately, fighting to re-frame the typical label of “innocent undocumented students versus criminal parents” who brought them. As Gleeson describes, recent mobilizations have complicated the image of Dreamers with great achievements deserving of being subjects with rights. Together with acts of civil disobedience to pressure for legislative reform and protest the detention of fellow Dreamers, the activists have underlined the tragedy of family separation and the devastating impact of the deportation of entire communities.
The Dreamers took advantage of the fact that support for one segment of undocumented immigrants was on its way to becoming “politically correct.” That was the signal Time sent out with its cover, its campaign and its video. The Dreamers were an advance party of the great non-movement of undocumented immigrants. By refusing to allow the moralizing of the right to inclusion, they didn’t allow themselves to be herded out from the rest of the group. They pointed out that this was the deported veterans’ Achilles heel. Using their acquired label as a movement and their resulting freedom of speech and social acceptance by a sector of the media and of Congress to speak for the whole group, they rejected the dichotomy with which politicians, analysts, academics and reporters were constructing morally tainted differences to split the legal destinies of two segments of the undocumented immigrants. In short, the Dreamers used their new power to benefit all the rest within the non-movement to which they belong and continue identifying with.
Going from a non-movement to a movement implied a leap from spontaneous civil disobedience (simply disavowing what is prohibited: unauthorized arrival and permanence) to a civil disobedience that presents itself explicitly as such. A number of Dreamers who study at the University of San Francisco have formed a group that meets regularly: the San Francisco Working Project.
Gabriela García, an international relations grad student benefited by DACA, is a member. As a militant Dreamer, 23-year-old Gabriela has practiced civil disobedience to pressure the government to stop deportations and expand DACA’s coverage. On April 11, 2014, she and some 30 others planted themselves with this demand at one of the intersections on San Francisco’s Market Street. She was trembling with fear knowing that if she was arrested they would take her fingerprints, which would jeopardize her DACA status, but she was sure she was doing her duty. Before they marched the few blocks to the building housing the city’s immigration court, the protesters had grown to several hundred chanting “Undocumented, unafraid!”
In reality, she had committed her first act of civil disobedience when she was 3 years old when by family decision she crossed the border with her disobedient parents, as she implicitly acknowledged to a reporter who attended the civil disobedience training by Gabriela and 20 other Dreamers followed by her protest at the intersection. “Though García isn’t telling her mom about the civil disobedience just yet,” wrote the reporter, “she says it’s her mom’s own story that’s making her do it.”
She and the other protesters were arrested and released the same day. Three days later, when I interviewed her on the USF campus, Gabriela was more specific: “I’ve always been interested in this aspect of government, my situation. I knew about César Chavez and Dolores Huerta and I used to think: Wow, awesome! But if you really start thinking about what they accomplished, maybe it wasn’t all that much, because there’s still a lot to be changed. When I was interviewed, I told them: ‘I’m here showing myself, but this isn’t just my story. It’s the story of my parents who were brave enough to cross the border against the prohibition. My mother was the first rebel. I am what I am because of them, because they’ve never given up.’ I told them all that.”
Her mother, now 68, had at that time been earning minimum wage working the early shift at a fast-food restaurant for 10 years, having showed forged documents to get the job. “To see in my mom’s eyes the fear [of deportation] and the sadness that have forced her to become shameful of who she is—I can’t turn against that,” García told the reporter who covered her act of disobedience. Gabriela sees this parentage of her rebellion as a chain in which today’s political acts, including disobedience, engender others because the disobedient decisions of the first generation of immigrants shape the political conditions of Generation 1.5.
How did they achieve it?
According to religious studies experts Marie Friedmann Marquardt and Manuel A. Vásquez, the Dreamers’ partial successes—the attention from the Obama administration and the sympathies from many US citizens—can largely be attributed to the strategic use of peaceful practices of civil disobedience, including marches and sit-ins, as well as to the widespread use of moving testimonies, which groups like United We Dream borrowed from the civil rights movement.
The Dreamers knew how to connect with a well-established tradition of civil disobedience as a struggle tool to include the excluded. Their passage through school and college, the relationships they cultivated through the media’s attention and their protection against deportation as a segment of undocumented immigrants who could be benefited by the DACA program put them in a position to learn and practice civil disobedience. That practice has kept them visible in the media and confirmed for politicians that these youths are political actors of growing importance.
They got this recognition when they were visited at San Francisco University by Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, known for her pro-immigrant position even in discussions about such thorny issues as reviewing the cases of Haitian immigrants or the barriers put up against immigrants with HIV. They also got it when Obama said the Dreamers were “Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.” Above all, they got it with the success of their most pricey struggle: the extension of DACA to cover more than half of the non-movement of undocumented immigrants by an Executive Action announced on November 20, 2014. It was a fleeting success, but a success nonetheless, as the implementation of the decree was aborted after being challenged by xenophobic politicians.
In short, the non-movement of undocumented immigrants was able to practice militant civil disobedience and increase their freedom of speech by becoming a movement, rising out of anonymity and cultivating a catchy label, and also by exploiting the opportunities of state heterogeneity.
Will only the label remain?
After the abrupt but in no way surprising announcement by Donald Trump that he was suppressing the DACA program, it seems all we have left is to pronounce the final words of The Name of the Rose: Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemos (The rose of old remains only in its name; we possess naked names),
Trump’s decision is not defeat. The rose—that segment of undocumented immigrants—remains and so does its label—which has proven to be a powerful banner. And once the “rose is named,” the label created, there’s no turning back. The formidable construction of the DACA label has made the Dreamers a different group and also the most acceptable of all segments of undocumented immigrants.
Politicians haven’t remained with their arms crossed either. They continue defending the Dreamers. Given the foreseeable suppression of DACA, a succession of legislative proposals were drafted that must be submitted to vote in the coming months. One of them is the Recognizing America’s Children Act, presented in March by Congress¬man Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and a group of Republican representatives to grant “conditional permanent residency status” for five years to those who comply with the DACA criteria. After those five years, those who enroll in the Army, graduate from high school or can show that they’ve worked continuously for four years will be eligible for permanent residency.
Another initiative is the BRIDGE (Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy) Act, presented the following month by Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin. If passed, that legislation could guarantee a three-year extension of DACA. While a more temporary solution, it could be a step towards a permanent one because it buys time—exactly until the end of Trump’s term—and, above all, would be a legislative tool safe from Trump’s whim or from whoever may follow.
And finally, there’s the DREAM Act, the foundation for the inspiration of DACA, which was presented originally 16 years ago by Senators Durbin and Hatch, rejected, and presented again by them in 2010. That time it made it through the House of Representatives, but was 5 votes short of the 60 needed for Senate approval. Now, in anticipation of the suspension of DACA, it was presented again in July by Durbin, this time co-sponsored by Graham.
All these initiatives are opposing Trump’s attempts to close the doors to legal residency for millions of other undocumented immigrants. In the midst of it all, the DACA-mented are continuing to speak out and protest in public spaces that are no longer forbidden territory for them. These striving forces will define whether being a Dreamer is only a name, a label, or is much more.
José Luis Rocha is a researcher at El Salvador’s José Simeón Cañas Central American University and associate researcher at the Institute for Research and Social Projection on Global and Territorial Dynamics (IDGT) of Guatemala’s Rafael Landívar University.