By Keish Kim | New Organizing Project blogger
What do you think of when I say the word ‘dreamer’? You may think of John Lennon’s hit song Imagine: “You may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one”
What if I said the same word but wrote it like this: DREAMer? If you have been following the immigration debate for the past decade or so, the term DREAMer may make you think of federal legislation like the DREAM Act, or even the face of an immigrant youth with his/her graduation cap on.
But for many activists, organizers, and undocumented youth, the immigration movement isn’t just about the DREAM Act. And sometimes, the label of “DREAMer” can be problematic in the sense that, our identities and our struggles are simplified under this one federal legislation. To me, a movement shouldn’t be defined by a piece of legislation. This should not be called a ‘DREAM movement,’ per se.
DREAM act, which stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, would provide a pathway to legalization for many undocumented youth who came into the US when they were younger. This bill was written in response to the rising immigration issues in the United States back in 2001. That was 11 years ago. And like when it was first introduced, the DREAM Act was written in order to address a portion of the broken immigration system.
But by solely focusing on the DREAM aspect of the immigration debate, we are leaving out many members of our communities like those who may have aged out of the DREAM Act age requirement , many of whom already have since its first introduction, our parents, and other issues that intersect with the larger immigrant rights movement
As time passed, many undocumented youth started to realize that we couldn’t just wait around for the DREAM Act without doing something about it; we had to stand up for ourselves and our communities with our own voices. And we wanted the immigration debate to stop blaming our parents for their decision to migrate to the US. That’s how the phrase ‘Undocumented, Unafraid, Unashamed and Unapologetic’ came about. Tired of others speaking on behalf of the ‘voiceless’, tired of hiding in the shadows, tired of being ashamed of the obstacles we overcame, and tired of apologizing for the sacrifices our parents made to give us a better life. And maybe through it all, I became tired of being called a DREAMer. By introducing me to a group as “Keish Kim, a DREAMer from Georgia”, by replacing my undocumented status through the word DREAMer, somehow it seems to keep my immigration status as something to be hidden. And ‘undocumented immigrant’ is seemingly left as a pejorative.
I have faced this reality several times in the past like when I’m at a public event and someone asks me if they could avoid introducing me as an undocumented immigrant. Or when I see the uncertain, hesitant faces of community members when GUYA’s (Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance) name is advertised in public events because the word ‘undocumented’ is in our name.
These are the moments when I appreciate GUYA’s name. It keeps us grounded. We are undocumented youth standing up for immigrant rights, which includes but is not limited to, access to higher education.
Immigrant rights consist of not only the DREAM act, but also comprehensive immigration reform (whatever that may look like). It includes our parents’ rights and struggles. It consists of 287g policy issues as well as Secure Communities and E-verify systems that continuously criminalize our immigrant communities. At the core of it all, the United States has a broken immigration system, one that is not limited to the DREAM Act or only the concerns of undocumented young people.
I don’t want the obstacles I have overcome as an undocumented immigrant to be defined by or labeled by a piece of legislation that has failed to pass over and over again; I define myself. I want to make sure that the struggle I am fighting for is for my community, not only for legislation. We should start asking questions and challenge ourselves to think about immigration policies beyond the DREAM Act because our immigrant struggles simply don’t, and shouldn’t, end with the DREAM Act.
Photo Credit: lurvely.com