WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Commentary: The Dream of the Parents

Sep 25, 2019

I have been interviewing undocumented immigrant youth, the so-called DREAMers, for over a year. I have spoken with young persons who want to become lawyers, doctors, engineers, and professors. Even though I have tried to reach out to other youth who are not on the college track (45% of DREAMers), it has been challenging to find them. Who wants to be open about their immigration status in our country today?

We are very impressed by the accomplishments of many DREAMers. I know I was very impressed by the ones I interviewed. But I can’t help wondering, what about the other DREAMers who are working in restaurants, on construction sites, and in factories or farm fields? And what about the dreams of immigrant parents?

We refer to DREAMers  as those young children who lack documents and were protected from deportation under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. A whole movement has developed around the claims of this remarkable group of human beings to push for immigration reform.

Although a powerful frame, the idea of DREAMers as worthy, innocent, moral, hardworking youth may hurt the rest of the immigrants, including DREAMers’ parents, who tend to be less educated and less blameless and comprise the other 10 million undocumented immigrants in our country.

The “perfect DREAMer” narrative emerged from the efforts of pro-immigrant activists, including undocumented youths, in response to the negative stereotypes about undocumented immigrants from the early 2000s. The typical DREAMer narrative is one of success against great odds. Even though they have no legal status, DREAMers are worthy because they are either educated or patriotic, thus embodying the American Dream.

When Obama announced DACA in June of 2012, he stated, “Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life -- studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class -- only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with a language that you may not even speak.” As this quote shows, DREAMers are portrayed as individuals worthy of special consideration.

What makes DREAMers deserving of special treatment is that they are blameless for their situation because they were brought to the country as children. This component of the narrative is especially powerful but problematic for their parents, who have broken the law by either entering the country illegally or overstaying their visas.

How do we move forward and pass a comprehensive immigration reform that treats “deserving” and “less-deserving” immigrants in a similar way? To be sure, factors influencing the lack of comprehensive immigration reform are many and include September 11, the urgency of other priorities, the politicization of immigration policy, and cases of divided government.

But I argue, together with a few others, that we also need to remember the dream of the parents. As one immigrant woman once told me, “I just wanted to be able to get a job, any job.”

Julia Albarracin is a Professor of Political Science at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio.  Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.

Ms. Albarracin recommended for further reading:

  • De la Torre, Pedro, and Roy Germano. 2014. "Out of the Shadows: DREAMer Identity in the Immigrant Youth Movement." Latino Studies12(3): 449-467.
  • Keyes, Elizabeth.2014."Race and Immigration, Then and Now: How to Shift to Worthiness Undermines the 1965 Immigration Law's Civil Rights Goals." Howard LawJournal57: 899-929.
  • Lauby, Fanny.2016."Leaving the ‘perfect DREAMer behind? Narratives and Mobilization in Immigration Reform." Social Movement Studies15(4): 374-387.
  • Nicholls, Walter J.2014."From Political Opportunities to Niche-Openings: The Dilemmas of Mobilizing for Immigrant Rights in Inhospitable Environments." Theory and Society43(1): 23-49.NORC Center