Talk about dreaming big. What started out as a group of undocumented youth asking to be allowed to pursue higher education or work without fear of deportation has grown into a bold mandate calling for a national road map. DREAMers want citizenship not just for themselves, but for their parents, grandparents and neighbors, and are advocating for a broad, diverse coalition to make this happen.
“We strongly believe the immigrant youth movement has accomplished unprecedented power,” said Cristina Jimenez, managing director of the group United We Dream. Saying that DREAMers were instrumental in President Obama‘s deferred deportation policy, as well as in encouraging large numbers of Latinos to vote in November’s election, “it really puts us in a position to be bold about our vision,” said Jimenez in a press call following a DREAMer national conference this weekend in Kansas City, Missouri.
At the United We Dream 2012 National Congress, 600 DREAMer representatives voted for an official platform with six demands. It calls for a road map to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented and an end to “senseless” deportations. It also demands the ability of undocumented immigrants to ‘travel without fear’ by ensuring access to driver’s licenses and the ability to visit family in other countries. It calls for extending state and federal financial aid opportunities for undocumented youth as well as in-state tuition rates to DREAMers, and demands an end to “excessive and costly immigration enforcement policies” such as Secure Communities, E-Verify, 287G, and roadside checkpoints.
The platform also advocates for access to health care and “safe, fair working conditions” and equal protection under the law for all. Lastly, the group wants to include more non-Latinos, as well as people of different sexual orientations, faith groups and and “differently-abled” people.
The group came out against the recent Achieve Act, a Republican-sponsored bill which would allow Dreamers to obtain visas for study or work without ensuring a pathway to citizenship. “Cynical political gestures like the Achieve Act are a step backwards,” said Lorella Praeli, United We Dream’s director of advocacy and policy. The group plans to have coordinated actions and press conferences across the country the week of President Obama’s inauguration. At the same time, United We Dream stresses it is will meet with legislators from both parties – they mentioned Democratic Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez and Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio – to press for bipartisan immigration reform in the next legislative session.
Political ‘coming of age?’
Political scientist Cristina Beltran, associate professor of social and cultural analysis and the director of Latino Studies at New York University, says the DREAMers’ platform represents a big change. “We have been the ones talking about immigration, but now undocumented immigrants are talking to us,” says Beltran, who has written a book on Latino politics and the creation of identity. She says the DREAMers’ platform calling for more inclusion of non-Latinos, as well as people of different sexual orientations and abilities, is a smart move.
“In a way, one of the issues with the immigration debate is that it was very ‘Mexicanized’ – it was treated as a ‘Mexico‘ issue,” Beltran says. “By stressing the global nature of immigration and the fact it encompasses many different people, it keeps it from being all about ‘Latino-bashing’ and ensures more political buy-in,” Beltran explains.
“This is a group of young people who have been pretty tested, and they have seen the Dream Act fail repeatedly,” Beltran adds. “They are not naive, but young people are often bolder than their elders,and are more optimistic and less cynical,” she states. After all, Beltran says, it was the DREAMers who pushed for a deferred action policy when many in the Administration thought it would be impossible.
Some have questioned whether the recent focus on DREAMers has taken away from the larger issue of immigration. “Besides the individual level storytelling, they have not moved the debate except to focus much of the debate on them. I have a problem with that,” stated recently political scientist and Northern Arizona University professor Stephen Nuño.
Now, as the DREAMers push for a broader immigration reform agenda, the question is whether these Latino young activists will be able to successfully move the needle in the new Congress, which starts in January.
Judging from the statements today, they’re ready.
“We are gearing up for a fight – right after the Presidential inauguration,” said United We Dream’s Praeli. Saying she expects to see a bill on the floor of Congress in May, the Latina DREAMer said she expected some “really heated months” in February, March and April. “Our strategies will be bold and new,” Praeli says.