The Dream Act: Lifting Limitations on Students’ Unlimited Potential
Nearly two months have passed since the Trump administration announced plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) and called on Congress to act to protect undocumented children of immigrants. What Congress should do is clear: Pass the Dream Act. Doing so would create a pathway to citizenship for more than 2 million young people in America, giving them a chance to fully participate in and contribute to the country they grew up in, that educated them, and that they believe in.
Absent passage of the Dream Act, we relegate so many young people to a life of uncertainty, isolation, and hopelessness. This is the reality for undocumented students. Instead of being able to live up to their potential, their immigration status is often a limiting force, constraining the valuable contributions they can make to the economic and civic well-being of our nation.
Consider the reflections of the three Dreamers I talked with a few years ago, as part of an effort to position undocumented students as witnesses to (or experts on) their lived experience. They spoke candidly about how their immigration status affected how they engaged, both academically and socially, and how they perceived themselves and the choices in front of them.
Suzie, a 25-year-old undocumented college graduate who came to the U.S. when she was just 5 years old, describes what it feels like to be undocumented: “It affects you emotionally, psychologically, and socially,” she explains. “Socially, because immigrants tend to isolate themselves. Psychologically, it really messes you up. It lowers your self-esteem, you don’t feel good enough, embarrassed. And emotionally, for me, it was difficult for me to be assertive, to stand up for myself.”
Jorge, 26, attended school in Mexico until he was in the fourth grade, and arrived in the U.S. when he was 10. He sums up how he viewed his choices as an undocumented student: “I think, if I did have choices, they were very sh–ty choices,” referring to his options after high school, i.e., college versus work. He ended up going to college.
Graciela, a 21-year-old sophomore in college, was a high-achieving student in high school who was involved in a magnet program and the international baccalaureate program. But she too feels constrained: “I had choices, but they were very limited. They all had the downside of money. Sometimes, there were no choices in terms of programs … A lot of programs are walls that often get shut.”
And for Suzie, the lack of choices translated into a lack of freedom: “Just knowing that I can’t do a lot of things, that I can’t be free. It feels like you’re not free, like someone is always pulling you back. You feel judged; you feel ashamed; you feel criticized. You feel there is always a finger pointing at you, telling you you’re doing something wrong.”
Without the Dream Act and a clear path forward, this is the reality Dreamers face. Students with unlimited potential like Suzie, Jorge, and Graciela will continue to confront the very real limitations of their immigrant status. Dreamers will ultimately have to decide if investing in their education vale le pena — is worth the pain. Jorge isn’t very optimistic: “I was giving up. I was like, I am not going to waste my time anymore.”
Don’t give up on Dreamers. Call your Congressional representative this week and urge them to pass the Dream Act. Encourage friends, colleges, classmates, teachers, professors, administrators, and college presidents to do the same. Education is a civil rights issue, and as advocates for children and social justice, we must stand together. Somos unidos.