The Fight for DREAMers’ Rights for the Legislation and Liberation

Many people came to the US-Mexico border to seek better living conditions to migrate from their home countries to the United States of America.

Many people came to the US-Mexico border to seek better living conditions to migrate from their home countries to the United States of America. The US has the largest immigration rate since 2019, rating around 19.1% of the international immigrants. The immigrant’s ages are not limited—unaccompanied minors of all ages have touched 600,000 since 2012 and expect 70,000 more in 2024 (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2024). This immigrant status has become a prolonged issue in the US because of the group division in it, with it being documented and undocumented. The number of undocumented immigrants in the US increased from 11 million in 2019 to around 11.2 million in 2021 (Batalova, 2024), while approximately 408,000 (1.9%) of all students enrolled in higher education in the United States were undocumented immigrants (American Immigration Council, 2023).

Illegal youth immigrants have allied in the last decades, known as the “Dreamers” which initially stood out as a group of students and Indigenous youth (Schwiertz, 2016)  demanding the US to pass The DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act. Aiming to raise awareness of higher education and the US government’s DREAM Act, which could legalize the immigration status of some undocumented youth who are pursuing higher education or in the military, they marched down the street while shouting, “Education, not deportation,” and sporting their university merchandise with the campaign slogan, “The DREAM is coming.” An undocumented student with “good moral character” who has been in the United States for a specific amount of time may be eligible to seek legal status if the act were to be passed by the US government (Zimmerman, 2012). However, despite the intensity of all the actions, The DREAM Act was not passed by Congress in 2009—it was unable to receive the 60 votes required to move on with a floor debate, and then history repeats itself in 2010—with the DREAM Act narrowly lost amidst the economic crisis and anti-immigrant sentiment in America. However, in Obama’s administration, changes happened here and there regarding this particular issue, when he announced his aim to pursue a “thorough immigration overhaul” in 2010 and there appears to have been a decrease in some sort of strong government enactment of immigration rules in 2009 (Engler, 2018).

The youths encountered both cultural and political obstacles in their attempts to assert their full membership as America’s middle class. Essentially, the obstacles were lawful, and connected to their status as unauthorized immigrants. Undocumented youths seeking entitlements and security in the US consequently had to overcome a severe obstacle: the legally defined, inflexible border of the “American” identity (Cabaniss & Gardner, 2020). The low societal strata that undocumented immigrants have in general society and their discrimination as people of color aliens to American culture also contributed to and rationalized the legal marginalization of these youths. They implied that being American was more than just a designation for those who were legally allowed to remain in the country. Instead, they said that one may represent and think like an American by their sentiments, ideas, and behaviors (Cabaniss & Gardner, 2020).

High achievers and talented individuals made up the movement. Youths who excelled in college preparation lessons, achieved high academic performance on the SATs, graduated in the top few percent within their classroom, and received multiple letters of admission from higher education institutions were the majority—shows their worth of being more than just aliens in the United States. The movement emphasized class in their language in an attempt to win consensus for the development of an exception from immigration regulations. The unification of the youth is none other than through shared feelings that lead to storytelling. Storytelling could serve as a particularly useful tool for identity construction for oppressed groups with a lack of social standing, minimal power in politics, and limited financial capabilities (Polletta & Lee, 2006; Snow & Anderson, 1987). Within the confines of a social movement, telling stories may operate as the foundation for a commonality (Cabaniss 2019; Polletta 2006).

This could be achieved, for example, by fostering a sense of enthusiasm and fellowship among individuals with diverse backgrounds and by closing occasionally conflicting differences (Smith, 2007). This movement has utilized a combination of street protests and media advocacy to draw attention to the issue of deportation which has mainly gone unnoticed by the general public. They have stood up to the organizations profiting off of the imprisonment and deportation of immigrants by holding protests, staging protests outside ICE offices, immigration detention facilities, and even businesses that contribute to private prisons (Foley, 2011). Youth activists have persisted in organizing and growing the movement’s national platform regardless of the absence of a definitive and straightforward pathway toward the law passing. This movement is supported by actions such as posting their stories online, as a form of social media engagement, and by international youth-led groups such as United We Dream, which currently has branches in thirty states (Zimmerman, 2012).

As a result, the Former President of the United States, Barack Obama established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) scheme in 2012, which assisted young illegal immigrants who arrived in the country before June 15, 2012. A high school degree or a comparable degree and documentation of continuous residency in the US since 2007 were required to enroll in this program (Aranda, 2016). DACA is still unable to resolve the issue of mixed-status families, nevertheless. Greater opportunities for freedoms and amenities for young undocumented immigrants can cause problems if the protection does not cover the whole family. This puts youths in danger of prolonged academic and financial challenges, and it may also erode their connections and limit their ability to contribute to American society (Aranda, 2016). DACA was going to be completely phased down by the presidency of Donald Trump in 2017—which was blocked by the US Supreme Court due to its lack of justification. President Biden filed a presidential decree in early 2021 to re-establish the scheme, but a federal court judge later that year nullified it. DACA approvals obtained before the 16th of July in 2021 will be legitimate as of right now, but those obtained afterward might not. The DHS put up DACA policies on the 28th of September following President Biden’s direction to maintain the program’s legal status in the United States (Boundless, n.d.).

Right now, 544,690 DREAMers are protected from exile temporarily under the DACA program. Even though they receive employment permits under DACA, they are left in uncertainty because the current Senate plan requires them to reapply for permission to remain in the country on a biennial basis. When considering individuals who are presently not protected by DACA, the number of Dreamers in America is estimated to reach as high as two million (Cowan, 2024). The new developments of DACA under President Biden are very exciting for DACA recipients and other DREAMers, including eligible spouses and children for which they can apply for a green card (Meza, 2024). According to The White House, the administration is acting to expedite the employment visa process for individuals who completed their studies at university and received a high-skilled labor offer, including those granted DACA and other Dreamers, in recognition of the national interest in ensuring that those who receive learning opportunities in the United States can utilize their abilities and credentials to benefit the nation (The White House, 2024).

However, the future American presidency will not guarantee the sustainability of DACA’s success. The first presidential debate, in which Trump released his new policy playbook, Project 2025, will take away the employee duty needed to examine and evaluate renewed applications, ending the official status of 500,000 DREAMers. The aforementioned and other measures deviate significantly from typical right immigration goals, such as strengthening internal law enforcement cultural promotion and awarded immigrants. Rather, they are intended to destroy the current immigration policy without consideration for the profoundly detrimental consequences on the prosperity and health of the US. These might have a lasting impact on upcoming American generations by undermining both the safety and prosperity of the US and its employees (Esterline, 2024). In addition, Trump has several plans that restrict legal immigration. He has threatened to revoke student permits for anybody involved in demonstrations against Israel or the favoring of Palestine. He planned on giving instructions to embassy staff members serving overseas to assess the ideological inclinations of visa applications and deny those exhibiting “inappropriate sentiments.” In addition, he would remove the Temporary Protection Status (TPS). Lastly, he will work to revoke naturalization for everyone born to undocumented parents in the United States (Durchholz, 2024).

If Trump were to win the next US presidential election, I firmly believe that the 2018 protest on Capitol Hill would occur all over again—which has happened. The way he repeatedly successfully blocked new applicants for the DACA program will definitely enrage and further refuel the movement. Even with the strong tactical strategy of the movement, there will be no guarantee that Trump will change what was decided in his Project 2025. The uncertainty about the DACA holders and DREAMers’ future depends on the 2024 US Presidential Election—whether they get to stay, or face another fear of being deported—despite their expediency, from their land of dreams, the United States of America.

Syakilla Putri Aulia Haryanto
Syakilla Putri Aulia Haryanto
Syakilla Putri Aulia Haryanto is an undergraduate student from University of Gadjah Mada (UGM) studying International Relations. Particularly interested in US policy, human rights, and contemporary international relations that involve new media, she is open to feedback, criticism, and evaluations to further help her in her future research.