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.