Undocumented Students as Organizers: Pushing the ‘DREAM’ Act

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 24, 2009 2 min read
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While the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, or “DREAM,” Act has been introduced numerous times and then stalled in Congress, students who would benefit from the measure have been organizing, using social-networking tools to do so. The proposed act was last introduced March 26 in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It would provide a path to legalization for undocumented students who graduate from U.S. high schools and attend college or serve in the military for two years.

Education Week Assistant Director of Photography Christopher Powers and I reported for on how several hundred immigrant youths, many of them undocumented, participated in a mock graduation ceremony here in the nation’s capital yesterday and called for passage of the DREAM Act.

The National Council of La Raza and other organizations that are part of a coalition called United We DREAM put on the event. The masters of ceremonies were two students who are active in organizations run by undocumented students that have sprung up since a version of the proposed legislation was first considered by Congress in 2001. Lizbeth, from California, represented Dream Team L.A. as a master of ceremony. Mohammad, from Michigan, represented They seemed completely comfortable in front of a mike and led the students in a chant, “What do we want? The Dream Act. When do we want it? NOW.”

I met an undocumented immigrant at yesterday’s event who I’d seen at another function. His first name is Jong-Min, and he’s a native of South Korea. He talked about his life as an undocumented youth at a conference I attended at Brown University in March. Then, he spoke about how after he graduated from college with a sociology degree in 2003, he couldn’t put his education to use because of his undocumented status. So he returned to the underground economy and was working at his parent’s grocery store in New York City.

I asked him yesterday if he was still working in the grocery store, and he said “yes.”

It was a warm summer day, and he was wearing his black graduation robe from his college graduation in 2003. “You must feel really hot in that robe,” I told him.

“For this, I’d do anything,” he said, stressing the importance of trying to get the DREAM Act passed.

These undocumented youths-turned-activists have taken to calling themselves “DREAMers.”

Critics of the proposal, though, see it as a form of amnesty for people who have disobeyed the nation’s laws.

Photo Credit: Christopher Powers/Education Week

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.