No Place to Call Home: The DREAM Act and what it would do for the 1.5 generation and the U.S

Each year in the United States, there are approximately 65,000 high school students who graduate and receive their diplomas, but find their options for their futures curtailed severely. Any aspirations these students may have to attend a four-year university, join the military, or find work are short lived the when reality sets in that these are not accessible to them. To any onlooker or researcher examining demographic data, the majority of these students are culturally American and indistinguishable from their peers. The U.S is their home.

These are the statistics and description given by the Immigration Policy Center regarding undocumented members of the “1.5 generation,” first generation immigrant children brought to the U.S at such a young age that they have been raised almost exclusively in the U.S (American Immigration Council 2011). For many students of this demographic, they are often just discovering their undocumented status as they attempt to fill out applications. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Plyler v. Doe, guaranteeing free and public K-12 education to all students, citizen or undocumented (Drachman 2006:91). By contrast, access to post-secondary education has several times been restricted at the national level.

IIRIRA and the Origins of DREAM

In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), a piece of legislation intended make immigration laws and regulations stronger and more efficient. Section 505 of this act is particularly important in regard to these aspiring college students. It stipulates that undocumented students living within a state can only be charged the more affordable in-state tuition rates if the state they resided in also allowed for U.S citizens from other states to apply for in-state tuition (Barron 2011). A large portion of undocumented members of the 1.5 generation come from low-income families, as their parents are also undocumented and can only get low-income, unregulated work where employers don’t ask for Social Security numbers or other documentation. This, in combination with the fact that they themselves do not have the paperwork required to complete college applications or apply for work to pay tuition, means these undocumented students are, for the most part, are left without support in  the country they believed was their home. While individual states have passed laws in recent years circumventing residency requirements for in-state tuition application, it is far from being the national norm.


Figure 1 Source: National Association for College Admission Counseling.

In 2001, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, identifying this issue, proposed the first version of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act to Congress. The stated goal of this legislation was to “allow children who have been brought to the United States through no volition of their own the opportunity to fulfill their dreams, to secure a college degree and legal status” (Barron 2011). In order to do this, the DREAM Act would repeal Section 505 of IIRIRA, and provide a path to citizenship for those undocumented members of the 1.5 generation who had arrived in the U.S under a certain age and had been in the U.S for a certain number of years. From 2001 until 2011, the DREAM Act has been proposed, with some variation, each year since, often coming close to but never actually receiving enough votes to pass both parts of Congress. 

What the DREAM Could Have Been

In order to begin the path to citizenship under the 2010 DREAM Act, which became the 2011 DREAM Act with very few parts changed, an undocumented immigrant would have to have entered the U.S prior to age sixteen, and have lived in the U.S continuously for a minimum of five years. Upon completion of high school or a GED program, along with proof of acceptance into a post-secondary institution, they may then apply for “conditional nonimmigrant status.” In order to be approved, the individual’s background check must show a lack of any disqualifying factors (health risk, criminal activity, national security risk, etc.), and must also demonstrate that they are of the “good moral character,” as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (Barron 2011). They retain this status for ten years. Nine years into this period, the individual may begin the application process for the status of “alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence,” which requires having earned either a degree from an institution of higher learning, completion of two years of a Bachelor’s program, or two years in the Armed Forces. After three years of having this status, the immigrant can begin naturalization procedures. Additionally, an individual with either status is allowed to work legally in the U.S, and also has access certain student loan programs and federal work study, but not affirmative grants such as Pell Grants, in order to support their post-secondary endeavors.

Not the Nightmare You Think It Would Be

Who Would Benefit from It

One of the biggest fears, and points of contention, regarding the DREAM Act which has prevented it from passing is the fear that it will somehow take away opportunities, seats, spots, positions, resources, etc. from American citizens and immigrants who are following the existing legal pathways to become citizens. In particular, the idea of rewarding “criminals,” so phrased, has been a major reason for reduced public support for legislation such as the DREAM Act. However, this is line of reasoning negatively generalizes all 1.5 generation students and members, when in fact it is very much a diverse and differentiated group. This generalization and stereotyping also extends to the type of economic impact they may have on the communities they live in, which is again far more complex and varied situation than is often purported.

The majority of the 1.5 generation youth and young adults who would be eligible for the DREAM Act, should it pass, are not undocumented through their own choice, and did leave one home country to exploit the U.S economy before returning. Rather, the U.S is their home country. Andrew Stevenson wrote, in regard to them, that “Because these youths had grown up and attended school in the U.S. since their early childhood, they felt almost no connection to their actual countries of citizenship” (2004:559). He uses the example of a community college student named Victor, who, having arrived here seven years prior with his family on a tourist Visa, has spent his formative years in the U.S, finished in education in the U.S, and even began post-secondary education here. However, because the Visa expires at age 21, his options were suddenly and severely limited. Without a legal visa, he would have to leave school, but also has little hope of being able to afford a new one, as without the documentation, he has no way of paying for new documentation, a crippling, paradoxical situation to say the least.

Victor’s story also serves as a prime example of another distinction that must be made regarding this generalized “immigrants” group. Edward Drachman (2006) in Peace Review writes that “Most undocumented immigrants do sneak across this country’s borders from Mexico or enter with fraudulent documents, but many others come here legally and overstay their visa (98)”. In addition to most being brought to the U.S involuntarily, many of these aspiring college students were admitted into the U.S legally and, for an extended period, were treated the same as legal citizens, at least until their expired visa status was discovered. Hence, for the most part, members of this 1.5 generation who would be eligible for the DREAM Act are not the border-hopping, document forging, “illegals” that has often been represented in public opinion pieces. Rather, they are almost-citizens who have been in the U.S for a large portion of their lives, and intend to stay here, work here, and contribute the same as any other citizen. What prevents this are legalities, not their own choice.

How the U.S Would Benefit from Them

Another of the major arguments against the DREAM Act is that it would place additional burden on tax-payers by forcing them to subsidize the education of undocumented students. From a sociological perspective, increases in this seemingly xenophobic view could be due to economic downturns in recent years. Addressing this argument, Stevenson cites several studies which indicate that “…the tax burden in subsidizing these students’ education may in fact be insignificant” (2004:573). Quite the opposite, immigrants paying taxes substantially adds to local and state tax revenue. In Illinois, Stevenson notes that, despite being confined to low-income jobs, immigrants contribute seventy million in taxes annually, a figure which can only increase should there be more legal, college educated immigrant-citizens created under legislation such as the DREAM Act. Sandy Baum, professor at Skidmore College, and Stella M. Flores corroborate this statement in their piece, writing that immigrants “…who attend college pay higher taxes and are less likely to depend on public support than those who do not. Their increased productivity in the workplace is reflected in more rapid economic growth and higher earnings for their less educated co-workers” (2011:185).


Although the DREAM Act has not been re-proposed since 2011, legislation similar in effect should be enacted within the U.S. To not help these aspiring college students, soldiers, and workers is “to create a discrete permanent underclass continuing to live with an “enduring disability” (Drachman 2006: 94). Making these members of the 1.5 generation would provide numerous benefits to the U.S economically, and would also be a step toward allaying certain stereotyped fears about immigrants, as, in general, college educated students actually draw less on public services and the criminal justice system as well. Passing DREAM-esque legislation and providing a pathway to citizenship for these already almost-citizens is imperative. While certain individual states have enacted the own version of the DREAM Act to aid aspiring college students, only federal action can solve this pressing problem.

Michael Olivas on state-level DREAM Acts and DREAM Act related legislation in the absence of a national DREAM Act 


Barron, Elisha. 2011. “The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.” Harvard Journal on Legislation 48(2): 623-625 (Retrieved from Web of Science on October 25, 2014).

*On Web Science, I was only able to retrieve this source in “article” form, not in the original journal format. As a result, the text was listed continuously on one long page, and I was unable to give page numbers for the in-text citations.

Baum, Sandy and Stella M. Flores. 2011. “Higher Education and Children in Immigrant Families.” Future of Children 21(1): 171-193.

Drachman, Edward. 2006. “Access to Higher Education for Undocumented Students.” Peace Review 18(1): 91-100.

National Association for College Admission Counseling. 2013. “Tuition Equity for Undocumented Students Gains Momentum.” April 10, Arlington, VA. Retrieved December 14, 2014 (

National Immigration Law Center. 2014. “FAQ: DACA.” June 13, Los Angeles, California. Retrieved October 25, 2014 (



Border Patrol

The U.S. government has increased its spending on border enforcement, in order to mediate the persisting problem of illegal immigration from Mexico. In addition to the increased spending of $10 billion more per year on border enforcement, the government also spent tons of money creating a fence across the border, which has had little effect in decreasing the number of unauthorized immigrants who come into the U.S. In fact, the fence has created a greater problem, because it funnels the migration streams from Mexico and Latin America into more dangerous points of entry. Many activists groups have been established in order to address the many problems concerning human rights violations along the border.

A political science professor interviewed over 1,000 migrants in an effort to highlight the impacts of border enforcement on migrants. In his study, Cornelius (2006) found that heightened border enforcement does not discourage immigrants from migrating. Often, the migrants keep trying to cross until they finally succeed. More migrants have begun hiring smugglers–which cost anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000 per person–in an effort to ensure safer crossings.

There is a large discussion suggesting the need for reform because of the re-direction of immigrants into more dangerous terrain, which causes more deaths. In addition, the detention facilities in which immigrants are held are often lacking in their ability to provide adequate food and access to medical care. There have also been reports of physical and sexual abuse in the detention facilities. Castillo (2011) discussed the different testimonies reported by No More Deaths, a humanitarian organization in Arizona whose mission is to end the deaths and mistreatment on the U.S.-Mexico border, and to make the public aware of what is happening there. In addition, members of the organization wish to encourage more humane immigration policies and want to see a reform of the current legislation. Castillo (2011) found that many immigrants who are held by Border Patrol are denied food and water, even if they are clearly dehydrated, and are subject to extreme hot and cold conditions, sleep deprivation, death threats, and psychological abuse. At times, some immigrants were unable to retrieve all of their personal belongings upon departure. Also, there were reports that children were often split from their parents and deported separately, which is very unjust, especially when taking in consideration the trauma that children must already be suffering, only to then be separated from a source of comfort – their parents. In addition, racial profiling and harassment are common along the border.

Other organizations that defend basic human and civil rights are the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso and Derechos Humanos In Arizona. Both organizations hope to correct misinformation through informative demonstrations and marches. Isabel Garcia, founder of Derechos Humanos, stated that “lies about immigrants prevent any real justice.” Others suggest changes in U.S. immigration policy that could decrease the U.S.-Mexico conflict. For example, Cornelius (2006) proposes that we should legalize the immigrants who are here, therefore providing them an option for upward mobility. Also, he suggested that perhaps the U.S. government could grant temporary worker options, which has the potential to decrease illegal entries. It is clear that there is a need for reform and that these conflicts should be made aware to the public.


Castillo, Mariano. 2011. “Report: Border Patrol abuses widespread.” Retrieved May 14, 2012 (

Cornelius, Wayne A. 2006. Impacts of Border Enforcement on Unauthorized Mexican Migration to the United States. Border Battles: The U.S. Immigration Debates. Retrieved April 10, 2012 (

Detention Watch Network. 2012. “Border Enforcement and Short-Term Detention.” Retrieved May 14, 2012 (

Immigrant Youth Detention

The headlines have increasingly focused on undocumented immigrants in the United States. Every day there are new stories, from the conservative and the liberal sector, that describe one issue or another regarding illegal immigration. For example, the news has focused on the new configured rate of illegal immigration (which as of March 10 was reported to be in decline) or a new crime committed by or against an undocumented immigrant. However, only recently have the media focused on immigrant detention centers, and rarely has the press focused on immigrant youth detention centers. Undocumented youth, just like adults, can be detained due to their legal status. While the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency is focused on finding criminal and violent undocumented immigrants, that does not mean that they let everyday undocumented individuals go, and youth are no exception.

Undocumented youth are brought to the attention of ICE officers mainly due to two reasons. The first reason is that immigrant youth are caught trying to cross the border illegally. It has been calculated that in recent years “approximately 8,000 youth are considered ‘unaccompanied alien children’” who tried to enter the United States (Frankel 2011: 64). These youth travel extraordinary lengths to try and find a better life in the United States. The film Which Way Home, produced by HBO, documents the journey of children as they travel to the U.S. The other reason undocumented youth are brought to the attention of ICE is because they are entered into the juvenile justice system without a clear legal status, in which case ICE puts a hold on their forms. It is approximated that “1,000 minors are apprehended each year through internal enforcement efforts by Immigration and Customs Enforcement” (Frankel 2011: 64).

Once within ICE custody, youth are sent to detention centers or an “ICE-contracted facility—a local city or county jail, a state facility, or a juvenile detention center” (Frankel 2011 74). These facilities, jails, and detention centers, are created for the purpose of rehabilitating incarcerated individuals who were convicted of committing a crime. Undocumented youth who are detained–not because of criminal offenses but because of their legal status–are then sent to these facilities. In “An Analysis of Treatment of Unaccompanied Immigrant and Refuge Children in INS Detention and Other Forms of Institutionalized Custody,” author Lisa Rodriguez Navarro writes that “the INS treats unaccompanied minors like common criminals by handcuffing them during transit and by requiring that they wear jail clothes” (1998: 601). However, unlike incarcerated individuals, undocumented youth who have been detained do not know the duration of their sentences. Youth can spend a couple months to over a year incarcerated (Navarro 1998: 599). Not only are these youth contained in a criminal setting, there is a history of undocumented youth being denied services.

Navarro writes that “these centers, camps and facilities have a history of housing immigrant minors in disgraceful conditions without access to education, health care, legal services, or other basic necessities” (1998: 590). These detention centers do not provide the guaranteed rights to undocumented youth. Even though these youth are not citizens, that does not mean that they should be denied the liberties entitled to them.

Undocumented individuals, especially youth, “have no statutory right to counsel at the governments expense” (Frankel 2011: 66). This means that undocumented youth must be able to pay for a legal representative or find a pro bono attorney, however, most youth appear before court without any representative.

Undocumented youth who have been detained live in unsafe facilities, do no receive access to legal aid, and are often treated like criminals. Media, news sources and academia should focus more on what is happening to detained undocumented youth in the United States.

Works Cited:

Frankel, Elizabeth M. 2011. “Detention and Deportation with Inadequate Due Process: The Devastating Consequences of Juvenile Involvement with Law Enforcement for Immigrant Youth.” Duke Forum for Law & Social Change, 3(63):63-107. Retrieved from

Navarro, Lisa Rodriguez. 1998. “An Analysis of Treatment of Unaccompanied Immigrant and Refuge Children in INS Detention and Other Forms of Institutionalized Custody.” Chicano-Latino Law Review 19:598-612.

Untitled Poem

Crossing from one side of the line to the other,
she was taken
left waiting.
From one prison —
poverty, fear
to another, called
“homeland security.”

for something that wouldn’t come
in a cell made of red tape, her broken dreams.

Looking for something else
finding no mercy
returned to the same.
Returned to an unfamiliar land
living on the streets
alone and cold
sold into labor
trafficked for sex.

Thinks to herself,
it could be so simple
in a world without
lines drawn in the sand.

Children and Human Rights Violations in Border Enforcement

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, as a result of political, armed struggle in Central America, the United States experienced a dramatic increase in undocumented, unaccompanied youth immigration (Byrne 2008:9). Most of these immigrant youth crossed the Mexico-United States border (Vera 2008:10). Migration has continued as a result of armed violence and poor economic conditions in Mexico and Central America. The now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) would once detain unaccompanied immigrant minors. Prior to 1984, these youth were processed relatively efficiently and usually released to “a responsible adult” before immigration court proceedings (Navarro 1998:591-592). This meant that unaccompanied, immigrant youth could be released to the care of foster homes or other charitable organizations.

Yet, after 1984, the INS instituted new restrictions — unaccompanied, undocumented youth could only be released to “a parent of lawful guardian” (Navarro 1998:592). The Supreme Court supported the INS’s restrictions in Reno v. Flores (Navarro 1998:597). Because many immigrant children and youth did not have family in the United States, most were shunted off to detention facilities, the conditions of which were often extremely poor.
With the passage of the Homeland Security Act in 2002, undocumented (and unaccompanied) youth now fall under the responsibility of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) (Byrne 2008:9). The DHS goes through a process to determine whether or not the immigrant is under the age of 18 and unaccompanied (Byrne 2008:18).

Most sources claim that conditions have greatly improved since the ORR has taken responsibility for undocumented, unaccompanied youth. These sources cite improved conditions, the use of low-security facilities and the availability of foster care as positive changes.

Yet the DHS’s priorities — national/homeland security — conflict with the ORR’s priorities — immigrant youth welfare. The DHS aims to apprehend and remove unaccompanied immigrant youth from the United States (Lopez 2010:23-24). On average, “over 7,200 unaccompanied immigrant children [are] detained by the U.S. each year” (Lopez 2010:6). Immigration agencies under the DHS may detain these children and youth on the Mexico-U.S. border or within the borders of the United States. Because the federal government of the United States has made a clear shift of its priorities toward “national security,” child welfare is often curtailed at the border.

Many children and youth who have have first-hand experiences with U.S. Border Patrol report severe abuses, including but not limited to: physical abuse, handcuffing, starvation, dehydration, cramped and uncomfortable conditions and refusal of youth’s requests for medical treatment (Byrne 2008:9).

Currently, the federal government of the United States is also pushing to privatize many immigration detention centers (Lopez 2010:39). Doing so reduces expenses and the burden of responsibility on the government’s part. However, privatization means that corporations can outright discard the federal government’s protective policies in favor of efficiency, which often means an increase in child abuse.

The repatriation of undocumented immigrant youth is another area of U.S. immigration policy that deserves attention. In repatriating immigrant youth (returning immigrant youth to their home countries), the DHS often reintroduce youth to dangerous conditions including, but not limited to, increases in poverty and violence, and homelessness (Thompson 2008:55). For repatriated immigrant youth, there is also a significantly higher risk of being subjected to human trafficking, commonly for labor or sex (Thompson 2008:53).


Byrne, Olga. 2008. Unaccompanied Children in the United States: A Literature Review.     New York: Vera Institute of Justice.

Lopez, Alejandra. 2010. “Seeking ‘Alternatives to Detention’: Unaccompanied     Immigrant Children in the U.S. Immigration System.” Honors College Theses.     Paper 97.

Navarro, Lisa Rodriquez. 1998. “An analysis of Treatment of Unaccompanied Immigrant     and Refugee Children in INS Detention and other forms of Institutionalized     Custody.”

Thompson, Amy. 2008. A Child Alone and Without Papers: A report on the return and     repatriation of unaccompanied undocumented children by the United States.     Austin, TX: Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Secure Communities

The Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch will implement its “Secure Communities” program in New York City beginning May 15, 2012.

ICE, created in 2003, portrays the program as the natural next step to effectively address immigration in the United States. On its website it claims that

Secure Communities is a simple and common sense way to carry out ICE’s priorities. It uses an already-existing federal information-sharing partnership between ICE and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that helps to identify criminal aliens without imposing new or additional requirements on state and local law enforcement. For decades, local jurisdictions have shared the fingerprints of individuals who are arrested or booked into custody with the FBI to see if they have a criminal record. Under Secure Communities, the FBI automatically sends the fingerprints to ICE to check against its immigration databases. If these checks reveal that an individual is unlawfully present in the United States or otherwise removable due to a criminal conviction, ICE takes enforcement action – prioritizing the removal of individuals who present the most significant threats to public safety as determined by the severity of their crime, their criminal history, and other factors – as well as those who have repeatedly violated immigration laws.

The program will also be implemented in Massachusetts that day, with supporters including Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson who said Secure Communities “isn’t just a big victory for law enforcement.” Referring to “several high-profile motor-vehicle accidents involving illegal immigrants” as reported by The Boston Globe, Hodgson claims “[the program] is a big victory for the families who have lost loved ones.”

“S-Comm,” as several sources have started calling it, has also come under fire, with Governor Cuomo opposing the program. Fox Latino reported today that “New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said that it will harm too many people charged with low-level offenses and make immigrants hesitant to cooperate with police or report crimes.” The New York Immigration Coalition released a statement from its executive director Ms. Chung-Wha Hong in which she explains that “it has been clear from its inception that this program undermines our safety and infringes on our civil rights. And evidence of its fundamental flaws has only continued to mount. We now know that Latinos are disproportionately arrested by ICE through Secure Communities, the program has an adverse impact on community policing, and states and localities around the country do not want it in their communities.”

ICE claims it has these concerns in mind and has begun work on policies to protect the civil rights of those involved and training officers to adequately fulfill ICE’s mission.

The promise, however, rings empty and there are protests in the works against yet another anti-immigrant policy in the United States.


Fox News Latino. “Secure Communities Activated in New York, Despite Objections.”

New York Immigration Coalition.

Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

The Boston Globe. “Feds to activate Secure Communities.”

U.S Immigrant and Customs Enforcement. Overview.

U.S Immigrant and Customs Enforcement. Secure Communities.

ICE Website Represents Immigrants As Criminals

The US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the largest branch within the Department of Homeland Security and, in addition, is responsible for the greatest number of deportations. Considering some of the literature our class has read this semester, it has become clear that ICE, whose website frames its goals as those of protecting our families, our borders, and the nation’s safety, is responsible for breaking apart thousands of families via the deportation of illegal immigrants.

Of the 396,906 immigrants deported last year (2011), 180,208 of them were deported for non-criminal reasons, which is nearly half of all deportations ( 2012).

Despite this large number of non-criminal deportees, ICE represents itself as an organization that “promote[s] homeland security and public safety” ( The ICE homepage has a continuously rotating news ticker, which is constantly updating with news releases regarding the detention and deportation of criminal illegal immigrants. One of the headlines reads “HSI, local law enforcement joint operation nets 6 arrests, seizure of illegal weapons, drugs” ( 2012), offering a link to a news release describing various arrests and seizures. For example, a successful raid is described in which “task force officers seized five additional .40 caliber magazines; 58 rounds of 9 caliber ammunition; an AR15 rifle; 427 rounds of 2.23 caliber ammunition; a 9 caliber, Sig Sauer model P229 pistol; a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver; 52 rounds of 9 caliber ammunition; three .40 caliber and two 9 caliber magazines; and 910 capsules of crack cocaine” (ice.gov2012). Another article reads, “ICE arrests 80 criminal aliens in Georgia, Carolinas” and describes how “Of those arrested, 20 were immigration fugitives, 14 re-entered the United States after a previous deportation and 46 were at-large criminals. The arrested aliens came from Mexico, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. ERO arrested 33 in Georgia, 15 in South Carolina and 32 in North Carolina” ( 2012).

If ICE was really interested in offering a full and complete representation of their deportation activities, they might post a picture of a child left alone in the U.S. whose parents are being deported due to a raid sponsored by ICE. Or, they might post an article about one of the 180,208 non-criminal immigrants who had been working in the United Sates for years and had made this country his home. Perhaps an exposé on how a family’s “separation poses huge economic costs to the family members in the U.S. household, who ironically may become more dependent on the U.S. government for assistance in the absence of the breadwinner ” or an article that focuses upon the tremendous “emotional, financial, and psychological trauma as a result of losing loved ones” (Hagan, Eschbach, and Rodriguez 2008: 84).

Obviously ICE isn’t going to be posting those articles anytime soon. However, what this class has taught me, and what is important for the public to understand, is that despite the stated aims of ICE, good people are being deported, losing loved ones, and being removed from their families. While the face of ICE is an anti-terrorist, anti-criminal organization, ICE is in many ways an organization that disrupts families, causing children (often times legal U.S. citizen children) psychological trauma and economic hardship.

The article “US Immigration Policy and Immigrant Children’s Well-being: The Impact of Policy Shifts” points out how “recent changes have led to a criminalization of federal immigration policy enforcement” (Androff et al. 2011:80). The way in which ICE chooses to represent itself and the people it detains is indicative of this criminalization, as it presents a much more sinister, and demonizing, depiction of who these deported immigrants are.


Androff, David K., Cecilia Ayon, David Becerra, Maria Gurrola, Lorraine Salas, JudyKrysik, Karen Gerdes, Elizabeth Segal. 2011. “US Immigration Policy and Immigrant Children’s Well-being: The Impact of Policy Shifts.” Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare XXXVIII(1): 77-98.

Hagan, Jacqueline. 2008. “U.S. Deportation Policy, Family Separation, and Circular Movement.” Internal Migration Review 42(1): 64-88.

ICE 2012. “Home”. Washington DC: Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved            May 11 2012 (

Is Education a Fundamental Right?

Article 26 – (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

– The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 26 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares “Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” The declaration that elementary education should be free for undocumented youth in Texas was challenged in the 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe. Following the decision of Supreme Court case San Antonio v. Rodriguez (1973), the court’s ruling in Plyler v. Doe enhanced the discussion of whether or not the right to education was a fundamental right or just an ordinary right.

A fundamental right is described as “a basic or foundational right, derived from natural law; a right deemed by the Supreme Court to receive the highest level of Constitutional protection against government interference” ( The naming of education as a fundamental right became a highlighted issue in the 1973 San Antonio v. Rodriguez hearing. The court case was concerning the matter of financing of public schools in Texas which led to disparities in individual school resources. The court decided that the fiscal plan implemented by the state has “abundantly satisfied this standard” (U.S. Supreme Court 1973). The Supreme Court decision in San Antonio v. Rodriguez found that there is no constitutional right to education because it is not expressed so in the Constitution (

Education as a fundamental right was revisited in Plyler v. Doe. The case concerned the issue of a Texas law that required undocumented youth to pay fees in order to attend K-12 public schools. In what Andrew Stevenson describes as “landmark decision,” the Supreme Court “established the right of undocumented immigrant youth to education to the U.S.” (2004: 562). The court discussed that “education as a special public benefit, holding that the right to education lay somewhere between an ordinary and fundamental right, regardless of a person’s immigration status” (Stevenson 2004: 563). However, the court ultimately decided that education was not a fundamental right. The decision of the court guarantees the right to free education for undocumented youth only for K-12 public education. This means that undocumented youths are unable to receive state and federal funds for postsecondary education.

The decisions made in San Antonio v. Rodriguez (1973) and Plyler v. Doe (1982) continue to affect the lives of students in the United States today. Every year undocumented youth graduate from high school prepared to continue on in postsecondary education but soon find that they are ineligible to receive state and federal funds for financial aid. In reference to postsecondary education, Article 26 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights that “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” Undocumented youth in the United States are not equally accessible to higher education, especially when considering the burden of tuition fees. It is time that the Court revisited San Antonio v. Rodriguez and Plyler v. Doe to reexamine the issue of education as a fundamental right.

Works Cited:

Chaltain, Sam. (May 16, 2011). Your education is not an equal opportunity. Retrieved from

Fundamental Right. (n.d.) In Retrieved from

Stevenson, Andrew. (2004). DREAMing of an Equal Future For Immigrant Children: Federal State Initiatives to Improve Undocumented Students’ Access to Postsecondary Education. Arizona Law Review, 46, 551-580.

San Antonio School District v Rodriquez. Retrieved from <>.

San Antonio Independent School Dis v. Rodriguez. Retrieved from

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from

2012 and 1070

“Imagine coming across a flower—the most precious, beautiful flower you have ever seen…You discover this flower, and you really want to have it, to own it as yours. But just as you lean over to pick it up, someone else suddenly swoops by and snatches it from your grasp.”

This parable, delivered by a high school student before a crowd of activists at this year’s May Day rally in Poughkeepsie, NY, was intended to convey a distinct form of oppression. According to the speaker, this oppression occurs when “something is available to you and is within your sight, but you’re prevented from ever achieving or attaining it.”

At the setting of the speech—a rally celebrating the spirit behind the collective struggle of workers and immigrants for dignified working conditions and basic human rights—the student’s words resonated with the crowd because they spoke to many of their problems. For the other students who were in attendance, many felt overwhelmed by the burden of debt from college loans, which can bury their career dreams. The workers who showed up to the rally expressed frustration with the state of the economy and healthcare costs, both of which continue to threaten the welfare of ordinary Americans. The most prominent voices at the rally, though, emerged from those in support of immigrants’ rights.

Various placards at the May Day rally

For many of them, oppression is when a hard-working student is denied access to higher education, or denied access to federal and state financial aid for college, by virtue of having unwittingly entered the country undocumented at a young age. Oppression can be when they are stopped and asked for their papers because of the color of their skin. Oppression is “the criminalization of the American Dream,” a student told me.

The plight of today’s immigrant population in America is quickly being recognized as one of the most important, and most pressing, civil rights issues of our time. From the 1990s to the early 2000s, immigration—specifically from Mexico and other Latin American countries—spiked to record levels, and studies have determined that a majority of those arriving during this period have found success and have integrated into the American mainstream. A 2010 paper published by the Center for American Progress found that the share of foreign-born men earning median incomes has nearly doubled since 1990, from 35 percent to 66 percent in 2008. During that same time immigrants have bought homes at increasing rates, from 9.3 percent to 58 percent.

Despite these promising gains, the immigrant community finds itself in a position of great peril today. Recent legislative developments in states like Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina have rendered it nigh-impossible to live as an undocumented immigrant, and have even led to the diaspora of immigrants with legal status, in those states. The laws that passed are littered with pernicious measures that make it a crime to work in the state without authorization, while empowering the police to stop and detain any person suspected of being in the country illegally, without regard for warrants.

Of these bills, the one that has garnered the most amount of attention is Arizona’s SB 1070. It was passed in 2010 and set off a cascade of reactionary fear-mongering across the other southern states, and today it finds itself challenged by President Obama’s Justice Department before the Supreme Court. The President has repeatedly criticized SB 1070 for the potential of racial profiling, arguing that no one “should be subject to suspicion simply because of what they look like.” Yet, the Supreme Court has evaded any arguments pertaining to the discriminatory nature of the law, preferring to assess the constitutional allocation of state and federal power.

Students and Workers march for justice

At the May Day rally, people whom I asked about the court’s hearings were disappointed that this aspect of the law was being brushed aside. “It’s the institutionalization of state-supported racism,” one person told me, “you cannot judge the law without acknowledging this.” Another expressed resentment towards the bill’s “attrition through enforcement” mechanism, which reasons that in order to reduce the undocumented population, the government must create egregious living conditions for those immigrants so that living in the United States becomes undesirable. “It’s contrary to everything I’ve known about this country; it’s impulsive and irrational,” the student said.

These arguments, of course, fall on deaf ears in the Supreme Court, but for those attending the rally, these words formed a chorus of pride and passion. Hundreds of miles away from the court’s steps in Washington, D.C., the people who gathered to celebrate May Day in Poughkeepsie remained adamant about improving their future and eliminating oppression. No matter each individual’s reason for showing up to the march, the group in attendance was unified in chant: El pueblo vive, la lucha sigue. “The people live, the struggle continues.”

Deportations: Beyond the Numbers

We hear the numbers a lot: 396,906 immigrants were deported last year. 392,862 the year before that. And almost 390,000 in 2009 as well. Yet seldom is it included in these news reports who, exactly, is being deported, and what circumstances the person is being forced to leave behind.

A poster from a May Day rally in Poughkeepsie, NY

One common assumption is that most of the immigrants who are being deported are felons who steal identities, cheat the government, physically endanger others, or get involved with drugs and other criminal activities. President Obama’s administration has certainly placed a rhetorical emphasis on removing these kinds of people from the country—and indeed, the number of deportations of immigrants convicted of felonies (e.g. murder, child abuse, possession of illegal drugs, etc.) has increased by 70 percent over the last four years. But that still only accounts for about half of all of the people who have been deported during Obama’s tenure.

As for the other half? These immigrants are often family members of U.S. citizens—parents, children, spouses, siblings—who have been unable to obtain legal permanent residency status due to the bureaucratic vortex that constitutes our immigration system.

One of these family members is Felipe Montes. Mr. Montes spent nine years in the United States raising two children with his wife before he was deported in 2010. His wife Marie had been pregnant with a third child when he was forced to return to Mexico, and the loss of his income and support meant that Marie would struggle to raise all of the kids on her own. Two weeks after their third child was born, the local child welfare department took thr children from Marie and put them in foster care. Now Mr. Montes may never see his children again.

The tragic situation of the Montes family is not an anomaly. ColorLines reported in December 2011 that during the first six months of 2011 the Obama administration deported 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children, and there are now 5,100 children of detained and deported parents trapped in foster care.

A paper published in 2011 in the Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare describes the tremendous hardship that this separation can entail:

The disruption of undocumented families, when parents are separated from their children, results in increased symptoms of mental health problems among children. This disruption is so traumatic that the fear of deportation itself results in emotional stress. Fear of arrests and trauma from the workplace raids themselves have profound impacts on children. After the Iowa raid [a May 2008 federal crackdown which resulted in the arrests of 389 immigrants], half of the school system’s students were absent from school, including 90 percent of Hispanic children, because their parents were arrested or in hiding.

At the time, the May 2008 raid had been the largest-ever crackdown on undocumented workers. Despite the clear damage it inflicted on the families and communities in Iowa, however, the Obama administration has gone egregiously further this year. A six-day operation in April conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) nabbed 3,168 undocumented immigrants—with only about half (1,477) of those with felony convictions on their record. This policy will only continue to cause pain and hardship for families with mixed legal status, and must be reconsidered.

Additional collateral damage can be found in the industries of which these undocumented workers have been a part. To take one example, last summer, Alabama’s legislature followed an insidious legislative trend in the South by passing a bill that would criminalize unauthorized work in the state and empower the police to stop and detain any person suspected of being in the country illegally. The law’s passage immediately led to a mass exodus of workers, both documented and undocumented, from the state, for fear of being harassed by local authorities. Many of the workers who fled had made significant contributions to the state’s agricultural economy. Now, a paper published this January by the University of Alabama estimates that the economic costs of the immigrant diaspora will be around 70,000-140,000 jobs, up to $250 million in state income and sales taxes, and up to $10.8 billion in Alabama GDP—a staggering loss.

It should be clear by now that the federal government’s wanton disregard for these immigrants who are affected by deportations is unconscionable. Our policymakers should look beyond the basic deportation figures, because if they bothered to parse the numbers and examine the consequences, they would find that current policy is severely detrimental not just to families, but to communities, industries, and the economy as well.

 Works Cited:

Androff, David K. et al. 2011. “U.S. Immigration Policy and Immigrant Children’s Well-being: The Impact of Policy Shifts.” Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare. March 2011.

Addy, Samuel. “A Cost-Benefit Analysis of the New Alabama Immigration Law.” Center for Business and Economic Research, The University of Alabama. January 2012.