Undocumented Students Raise Voices Online for DREAM Act
New America Media, Commentary, Prerna Posted: Jan 15, 2009
Editor’s Note: The DREAM Act that would have provided a pathway to permanent residency for undocumented youth who arrived in the U.S. as minors, and are attending college or serving in the military, failed in the Senate in 2007. But a group of students decided to use the Internet and a small mailing list of undocumented youth to lay the groundwork for the next round. Prerna is a post-graduate student activist, a co-founder of Dreamactivist.org and the co-chair of the United We DREAM Communications subcommittee. IMMIGRATION MATTERS regularly features the views of immigration advocates.
“Could you send an email out to the list and get them to vote/submit their own ideas here?”
“Sure. We have about 80 people on our mailing list right now. We could probably get about 30 of them to vote.”
And so it began. Ideas for Change is a nationwide competition to identify the best ideas for change in America. The top 10 will be presented to the Obama administration on January 16. The message went out on a small mailing list of undocumented students collected from the DREAM Act Portal -- an online community for undocumented students.
Juan Rodriguez receives the message on the mailing list and forwards it out the Students Working for Equal Rights in Florida. Other Facebook groups follow suit with Greisa from Texas mass-messaging 11,000 people on the Facebook DREAM Act cause.
Students from Philadelphia and Florida hit up every pro-migrant blogger on the Citizen Orange list with a personal narrative, getting alternative media exposure.
Thousands of miles away in LA County, an 18-year–old legal resident, Omar, calls the undocumented student helpline (1-800-596-7498) to volunteer his services to the cause. Within a few hours, he gets connected to Dreams to be Heard at CSU Northridge, the Orange County DREAM Team, and the Underground Undergrads working out of UCLA.
With the competition drawing to a close, Facebook profiles are reading: “Vote for the DREAM Act!” and close to a thousand people are signed up to vote at Change.org through a Facebook event. Some might even see the occasional Facebook ad that tells audiences: “DREAM Act 2009: Obama Supports the DREAM Act. Do you?”
Welcome to Web 2.0 undocumented student activism. Youth in the usually-somber waiting rooms of history are bustling with renewed enthusiasm and energy. Trapped in marginal status, ignored by the mainstream media, with their backs to the wall and everything to loose, undocumented youth are emerging as leaders in their own movement for passage of the DREAM Act.
How did this all come about?
After the October 2007 defeat of the DREAM Act—a bipartisan legislation that would have granted undocumented students a pathway to citizenship provided they met certain eligibility requirements such as good moral character, attending college or enlisting in the military—a handful of undocumented students at the DREAM Act Portal decided to come together and form their own website. The purpose: To be ready when the DREAM Act comes up for a vote in Congress. We started blogging, collecting stories, forging pathways into untapped social-networking sites, and building relationships with other pro-migrant bloggers online. DREAM activism was shelved in favor of dream ACTivism meaning that mere dreaming is secondary to real action for pro-migrant reform.
Yet, this is not just an online movement. At this point, the undocumented youth movement is anything but monolithic, yet it is united in its goals. The movement embraces all segments of its population: the best and the brightest but also the ones that are struggling through school, those who have no options to legalize their status and those who are U.S. citizens or legal residents and are sympathetic to the cause because they personally know someone who will be impacted by the DREAM Act. Political ideology is not a hindrance; the students range from Democrats to Republicans, conservatives to progressives, fundamentalists to atheists -- they truly come from all walks of life.
Effectively, the one small message propagated less than seven weeks ago has gone viral. It has taken different forms and spread through hundreds of profiles on Facebook and Myspace; talked up in Gmail chat, Twittered, Mixxed, stumbled upon, blogged and much more. It is leaving the online sphere and spreading to traditional media outlets.
This bottom-up, grassroots effort is impressive; as one dreamACTivist states, “Never underestimate the power of minor acts and inconspicuous actions. They can be the start of something new and powerful and if not, we must acknowledge them for the simple fact that nothing should be lost to history.”
Our stories will not be lost to history. We will no longer be silenced into submission. We will not sit in the closet quietly waiting for acceptance and change. And we will certainly not let fear trump the message of hope. This will be our year, make no mistake about it. The DREAM Act will pass in 2009. The only thing stopping us is inaction and complacency in the face of opportunity. So how about taking the movers and shakers of tomorrow out of the nightclubs and slumber parties, gathering them from the barrios and Bible Belts and organizing them for the DREAM Act and pro-migrant reforms?
As Harvey Milk stated: “They'll vote for us two to one if they know one of us."
If you are interested in joining the movement, drop us a line at admin (at) dreamactivist (dot) org to share your story and find out what you can do to help.
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