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 (



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.

Remember, I am Human Too!


I have dreams of building my family a home

something we never had

but a dream we have always wanted

A home where we could run free

free from hate and shame

free from the names you gave us:

the immigrant

the illegal

the unwanted alien,

the uninvited people that could never and who should never belong.

But our home would be different!

It will care for us

nourish us

protect us

teach us

A home that I know on-lookers would be proud of.

This home would tower over injustice

shield US from bigotry

illuminate OUR worthiness

and welcome ALL who wish to be set free.

Why should we continue to live in fear,

away from those we love and from those who love us?

Why should we be different, without a place to call OUR home?

Maybe it’ll take me years to build this home for my family

Maybe they will never be able to live and see this beautiful home…

But it is sad that I should build this home alone

Its is even sadder to know that I face a double-edged sword:

building this home is a burden I have to carry, but a responsibility that I will have to do.

and I am prepared.

Others like me are also prepared

to build our home … together.

But I wonder, why should this be a dream?

Before you answer

just please remember,

that I am human too.



Peace & Love.


Undocumented Immigrants’ Mental Health

Undocumented immigrants, the majority of whom are Latino and of Mexican-origin, face poor health outcomes in the United States. The stigmatization and barriers that come along with undocumented legal status affect immigrants’ mental health. Moreover, immigrants face additional barriers as a result of linguistic, cultural, and socioeconomic disadvantages. As a result of these disadvantages and the limitations that undocumented legal status poses, this vulnerable and marginalized population faces adverse health outcomes and is at a higher risk for mental and emotional problems.

Many undocumented immigrants come to the United States for family reunification, improved economic opportunities, and to escape poverty, or to flee political oppression. However, the very act of immigrating to another country or crossing the border results in separation from loved ones, discrimination, uncertainties, and even death. In addition,  immigrants experience stress while trying to navigate a new culture, language, and customs, and to gain access to needed resources in a new country. Along with these circumstances, undocumented immigrants are confronted with restrictive U.S. immigration policies, anti-immigrant sentiments, and the uncertainties that comes along with their legal status. This has placed undocumented immigrants in a situation where they are threatened with deportation, overly criminalized, and severely disadvantaged in the United States.

Along with these various social and economic hardships that undocumented immigrants experience, their legal status also affects their access to healthcare, which has major implications on their mental health. Many undocumented immigrants lack health insurance and are ineligible for Medicaid. Therefore, a lack of health insurance means that this vulnerable population’s health care needs are unmet. In an article titled “U.S. Immigration Policy and Immigrant Children’s Well-being: The Impact of Policy Shifts,” Androff et. al state that “[t]his deficiency in basic material supports and institutional resources has been associated with negative economic and psychological consequences for parents as well as lower levels of cognitive development among infants” (2011:88). Without these needed health services, undocumented immigrants must confront the stigmatization that comes with their legal status and many psychological consequences on their own.

Sullivan and Rehm’s article, “Mental Health of Undocumented Mexican Immigrants” states that “[t]he psychological burden of being blamed and stigmatized by media and the larger society is manifested in the daily experiences, perceptions, and actions of [Undocumented Mexican Immigrants]. They are at risk of low self-esteem, guilt, shame, fear, and insecurity” (2005:248). Undocumented immigrants are exposed to inadequate occupational safety and health conditions, and they are unable to speak out against these conditions because of their legal status.  In addition, their legal status often leads many undocumented immigrants to live in fear, and to isolate themselves, which further marginalizes them from society. Furthermore, they are confronted with their representation in the media, which portrays them as criminals who take jobs from U.S. citizens and exploit public assistance. The limited agency that undocumented immigrants have in the United States and the ongoing stressful experiences they experience has many psychological health implications, such as depression. Sullivan and Rehm’s article goes on to state that depression “can be incapacitating, rendering individuals unable to fulfill daily responsibilities. It is associated with other medical conditions, anxiety, eating disorders, and use of alcohol and illicit drugs” (2005:242). Therefore, the barriers that undocumented immigration status pose affects immigrants’ mental health and would render them incapable of making meaningful contributions to their families, the United States, and society. Granting undocumented immigrants access to quality health care would be a first step towards improving the welfare of this vulnerable population.



Androff, D., Ayón, C., Becerra D., Gurrola M., Salas L., Krysik J., Gerdes K., and Segal E.  2011. “U.S. Immigration Policy and Immigrant Children’s Well-being: The Impact of Policy Shifts.” Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 38(1):77-98

Rehm R. and Sullivan M. 2005. “Mental health of Undocumented Mexican Immigrants: A  Review of the Literature.” Advances in Nursing Science 28(3):240-251

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 (

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.

Civic Participation and Undocumented Youth

Civic participation and civil disobedience are often thought of as rights reserved for citizens. However, given the growing human rights campaign being waged by undocumented immigrants in the United States, now might be an appropriate time to reevaluate that definition.

Judith Torney-Purta et al. (2006: 352) found that there were “significant differences favouring students who are neither immigrants nor Hispanic in knowledge of civic content and concepts, in understanding democracy, [and] in possessing the skills necessary to understand political communications.” While their sample only included legal immigrants, it is safe to assume that, as one of society’s most disenfranchised and vulnerable subgroups, undocumented immigrants feel those disadvantages doubly. Alienated by the same English proficiency, income, and education gaps that plague other immigrants, undocumented residents must also live in fear of systematic reprisal from the Immigration Naturalization Services (INS) and Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE). This underclass is constantly threatened by deportations, fines, and jailing, which forces them to conceal their identities at all costs. Were another minority so grossly marginalized, they would no doubt demonstrate against their unequal treatment. Yet those whose actions have been deemed criminal, such as “illegal aliens,” rarely invite publicity.

However, that paradigm appears to be changing. A few years ago, a handful of groups representing Latino youth organized the first Coming Out of the Shadows Day. The event was intended to restore pride to a people who had come to associate their identities with shamefulness and secrecy. Employing rhetoric similar to the gay rights movement, undocumented Latinos were encouraged to re-appropriate the stigmas against them by publicly announcing their lack of legal status. The risks are obvious – most of America’s estimated eleven million undocumented residents strive to protect themselves from being outed. Yet each year, many undocumented residents challenge their country to confront an issue that is so close to home, yet so often shunned by citizens, lawmakers, and media. The Immigrant Youth Justice League, one of the movement’s principle sponsors, claims that the coming out movement is intended to “push the boundaries of what it means to belong in the United States and call this country home – as a juxtaposition to the way the government criminalizes us and our families” (Unzueta 2011).

It is difficult to pinpoint where and when this sudden surge in undocumented activism arose. Hinda Seif (2011) cites the large-scale protests against the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, during which demonstrators donned shirts reading “We Are All Immigrants,” as a possible catalyst. The gay rights crusade has undoubtedly been another source of inspiration. Journalist and author Jose Antonio Vargas, by far the most prominent immigrant to out himself thus far, explicitly cited Harvey Milk as an influence in his announcement (Vargas 2011). Undoubtedly, gays’ public identity revelations played some role in the startling pace at which they have advanced their agenda in the past several decades. It is understandable that an analogously marginalized subgroup would want to replicate that success. But, regardless of its exact origins, the coming out movement represents a generational shift in undocumented residents’ attitudes toward their identities and national responsibilities. Perhaps it is time to consider that civic participation is the duty of all those who feel they have a stake in their country’s fortunes.

Work Cited

Unzueta, Tania. 2011. “The Politics of Coming Out.” July 13. Retrieved 5/5/12.                                (

Seif, Hinda (2011). “Unapologetic and Unafraid: Immigrant Youth Come Out from the Shadows. Pp. 59 – 75 in New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development edited by Lene Arnett Jensen and Reed W. Larson.

Torney-Purta, Judith et al. 2006. “Differences in the Civic Knowledge and Attitudes           of Adolescents in the United States by Immigrant Status and Background.” Pp. 343 – 354            in Prospects, vol XXXVI, no. 3 edited by Fernando Reimers.

Vargas, Jose Antonio. (2011). “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.” The NeYork                      Times, June 22.