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USA: Mapping DREAM Act Online Youth Movements

Categories: North America, U.S.A., Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Education, Ideas, Law, Protest, Youth

Immigrant high school and university students in the United States have used the internet effectively in building activist networks to support the passing of a law called the DREAM act.

A law that would offer hope

I have been living in the U.S. for most of my life and now that i have graduated high school i can't continue my life like i wanted to. If this act is passed i can go to school and study for a great career. I hope congress can make this happen, so thousands of people in my same situation can fufill their dreams. -Yoammy Cifuentes

More than 19,900 signatures and personal pleas like the one above have been posted so far on the DreamAct2009.com [1] petition website urging the U.S. lawmakers to support a proposed bill called the DREAM Act [2] (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act). If passed, the new law would offer a 6-year path to legalization for undocumented youth who came to the United States before their 16th birthday, graduated from high-school, and have been enrolled in college or the military for more than 2 years.

Different versions of the bill have been up for discussion since 2001 (it was last rejected in 2007), but the Dream Act was re-introduced [3] for review in both chambers of congress on March 26, 2009.

The fight for the Dream Act over the past five years has produced a steadily growing stream of immigrant youth activists, who have become politically engaged either through high school and campus organizations, national coalitions, internet and blogs [4], and youth projects within immigrant rights organizations. Since the re-introduction of the bill, thousands of undocumented youth and their allies have become re-energized in their efforts and a number of new online initiatives have appeared.

The young people in question are sons and daughters of immigrants who entered the United States without papers. Often they arrive too young to even recall their home countries. They attend school and are raised in American culture, only to find as they leave high school that their opportunities for higher education and employment are stunted by their legal status. As they come of age, they must hide in the shadows of American life in isolation and fear of deportation.

A report [5] (PDF) by the Migration Policy Institute [6] from 2006 estimated that at least 360,000 undocumented youth between the ages of 18-24 would be eligible for citizenship under the Dream Act. Today, that number may be significantly higher.

Online youth activism

This map identifies some of the scope of this organizing across the national landscape. Immigrant youth-led projects have thrived and matured, within a variety of organizational models.

Immigrant youth organizing is not limited to cities like Miami, New York City and Los Angeles, but also appears in regions of the South and Midwest, which have seen immigration increase rapidly in recent years. Youth organizing around the Dream Act appears to have provided a stepping stone for immigrant youth to become more politically active by gaining exposure to different streams of social justice work, and sharing responsibility for building a movement based on principles of social inclusion and justice.


View Dream Act Activism [7] in a larger map

The colors indicate the following:

Yellow = Online Based organizations
Red = State Based Immigrant Rights organizations
Green = Policy organizations
Blue = Student organizations

Here are a few of the leading youth groups online:

DreamActivist.org [8] is the online clearinghouse and blog network for the United We Dream coalition. It was co-founded by a group of undocumented youth who met via the Dream Act Portal [9], an online forum. DreamActivist.org provides information and resources to undocumented youth via a toll-free number and daily blog posts. The youth have also created an online petition website at www.dreamact2009.com [10] and actively blog at Change.org [11].

Underground Undergrads [12] is a project of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education. Students of the “Immigrant Rights, Labor, and Higher Education” course compiled a series of written and video interviews with undocumented fellow students at UCLA. The students maintain a blog documenting their advocacy in favor of the Dream Act. Underground Undergrads arose from the student group IDEAS at UCLA, a student led support project for undocumented students at UCLA. Students fundraise for scholarships as well as conduct outreach and informational workshops about access to higher education and the Dream Act.

The Coalition of Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles [13] has helped anchor the California Dream Network, a student network encompassing 24 college campuses throughout the state and a coalition of eight high school chapters known as WISE UP!. Together, the network targets over 600 members connected monthly via email and convened in person at least twice a year.

Voces de la Frontera’s [14] youth organizing project, Students United for Immigrant Rights (SUFRIR) [15], has over 200 members in high schools in Racine, Madison and Milwaukee. SUFRIR has also spurred the creation of Students United in the Struggle (S.U.I.T), an African American counterpart; they work closely together on expanding access to higher education and youth voter education projects.

New York State Youth Leadership Council [16] is a network of young advocates representing high schools, colleges,communities of faith and community-based organizations committed to promoting the advancement of immigrant youth through leadership development, organizing and advocacy. The NYSYLC currently runs an immigrant youth civics program and a scholarship program for undocumented youth.

The Latino/a Youth Collective of Indiana [17] began as a high school dropout prevention program called El Puente Project [18]. El Puente was initiated in 2000 in Indianapolis, Indiana as a university-based initiative of the School of Education at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). El Puente helps inform and organize students in support of the Dream Act [19].

National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC) [20] coordinates three Asian-Pacific American youth projects named ORANGE, FYSH and MIST in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York respectively. As the voices of the API youth in the Dream Act [21] movement, the groups have produced YouTube videos, launched a national postcard campaign, and started a Dream Scholarship Fund. In New York, MIST has trained youth to engage other citizen youth to register to vote and helped register over 5,000 young voters.

Student Immigrant Movement [22] was founded in 2005 by a group of immigrant students from Boston, Massachusetts; who were faced with the challenge of not having equal access to higher education as their classmates because of their Immigration status. Currently, Student Immigrant Movement is working for passage of in-state tuition in Massachusetts. The parent organization Massachusetts Neighbor to Neighbor hosts the youth project.

Padres and Jovenes Unidos [23] (Parents and Youth United) is a Denver, Colorado based inter-generational and multi-issue organization that has fought for educational equity, student rights and justice for immigrants. Jovenes Unidos has emerged as the youth initiative of Padres Unidos. It is a steering member of the Higher Education Access Alliance, and together with the The Bell Policy Center; the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition; the Colorado Progressive Coalition; Metro Organizations for People and Padres they have recently fought for in-state tuition in Colorado.

Students Working for Equal Rights [24], the youth organizing project of the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC), now has four chapters in South and Central Florida and sponsored a Statewide Student Summit. Based largely on community college and university campuses, it has been active in national and state Dream Act mobilizations. SWER has also developed internet campaigns against INS deportations, as in the case of Juan Gomez [25].

National battleground

Youth activism around the Dream Act is reaching a new peak in 2009, particularly because of the renewed interest in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) [26] and a significant change in the political landscape since the election of President Obama.

The map above demonstrates a shift in the political landscape from 2007 to 2009. The Dream Act has always had a life of its own, considered by many to be the least controversial of immigrant reform measures, even among some conservatives. But while there has been a growing web of local and state based groups fighting for the federal Dream Act–alongside a number of state versions of the bill that would provide access to public university systems–the national infrastructure for the campaign has been very thin.

The United We Dream Network currently housed at the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) [27] in Washington DC has attempted to centralize organizing and advocacy efforts on behalf of the bill. By providing trainings, weekly organizing conference calls, up-to-date knowledge about the state of the bill and opportunities to convene, the United We Dream Network has been helpful in connecting organizing groups. Its major event, in the summer of 2009, was to stage a mock graduation/advocacy day session in Washinton D.C. with over 500 youth attending from across the country. This year, on September 23, United We Dream activists organized hundreds of Back to School Day Actions [28] in more than 20 states.

See Global Voices special coverage page about the DREAM Act [29]