Defining American: The DREAM Act, Immigration Reform and Citizenship
55 Pages Posted: 4 May 2013 Last revised: 27 Feb 2014
Date Written: January 21, 2014
The grassroots movement propelling the DREAM Act and immigration reform forward reveals how the definition of citizenship is undergoing a dramatic transformation, in ways both inspiring and troubling. The DREAM movement depends upon the compelling but exceptional stories of passionate, high-achieving, law-abiding youth who already define themselves as being American, and worthy of legal status. Situating this narrative in the rich literature of citizenship, the article shows how the DREAM movement effectively exposes the disjuncture between the DREAMers' identity as Americans and their lack of legal immigration status. The article celebrates how this narrative succeeds as a contrast to the prevailing political discourse and how the movement, led by youth from all corners of the globe, radically upends America’s history of deeming people of color unworthy of (and ineligible for) citizenship. The article also presents some unintended consequences of the movement, however, suggesting that the worthiness-based narrative strategy adopted by the DREAMers is both produced by and contributing to ever-narrowing standards for who is deemed worthy of inclusion. These narrowing standards may have negative consequences for the expansiveness of immigration reform more broadly, and even for citizenship beyond the field of immigration. This article explores how the worthiness narrative, which implicitly acknowledges a concept of unworthiness, inadvertently connects to attempts to restrict notions of citizenship, specifically by limiting the principle of jus soli citizenship, extending felon disenfranchisement and instituting voter identification laws.
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