August 5, 2014

By Eladio Bobadilla

DREAMers, young men and women living in the United States illegally, have in many ways become the face of the immigrants’ rights movement, and for good reason: even if we accept the narrative that immigrants “broke the law” by coming here, it is difficult to blame children who were brought here at a young age by their parents. After all, they had absolutely no say in the decision to emigrate illegally.

Photo credit: Danny Murillo (Madera, CA). For many young people brought to the U.S. illegally as young children, "the fields" are their only future.

Photo credit: Danny Murillo (Madera, CA). For many young people brought to the U.S. illegally as young children,
“the fields” are their only future.

These young people are also teach-savvy and for all intents and purposes, Americans: they know nothing outside the U.S., speak perfect English, and have been acculturated and educated in the United States. And of course, they have more to gain than anyone else who is here undocumented: they have spent their entire lives in the United States and look to a future entirely here as well. Yet, without papers, they are condemned to a life of needless and senseless suffering, forced to live in the shadows of the only country they know and to live as strangers, as invisible subjects in the country they naturally call their own. By mere virtue of a decision their parents made, they are forced to live on the margins—unable to get an education, unable to get good jobs that they are qualified for and often passionate about, unable even to get a driver’s license.

And yet, the DREAMer movement is a rather conservative one, pegged by some activists as misguided. One undocumented activist told me how she came to this conclusion: when she was young, she hoped that our national leaders would see the idiocy of a policy that punishes children for “illegal” acts their parents committed. But as they “aged out,” all hope faded; even if a DREAM Act were passed, they would no longer be eligible. She also began to wonder why only children should be given clemency. “What about our parents?” she asked? Yes, they had broken the law, but they did it because the alterative was extreme poverty (even hunger), violence, and hopelessness. Many DREAMers like this young woman have come to understand that justice would have to be broader, more inclusive to really be called justice.

This conversation illustrates the complexities of the immigrant rights’ movement and reveals one of its many challenges. Congress has failed to grant relief even to the most blameless people involved in this debate. What hope can there be for older immigrants? And yet, these young women and men are beginning to dream bigger, to imagine a day when not only they, but their older loved ones, are granted legal status, a time when they are not seen as “illegals” but as Americans—and as people. Perhaps in this toxic political environment, seeing people as people has become too much to ask for.