The Dreamer Divide: Aspiring for a More Inclusive Immigrants’ Rights Movement

12 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2018

Date Written: May 29, 2018


President Trump reignited the potential for immigration reform legislation when he rescinded Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA), a program that protected approximately 800,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation. As immigrants’ rights advocates push Congress to create a replacement for DACA, a growing number of undocumented activists oppose these advocates’ use of the term “Dreamer” — a shorthand reference to undocumented youth since the failed attempts to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. Many undocumented activists who previously identified as Dreamers now argue that the term perpetuates a problematic narrative of exceptional, high-achieving youth that might be used to the detriment of relatively less sympathetic immigrants — including undocumented adults, high school dropouts, and those with criminal records. Using this emerging “Dreamer” divide as the focal point for discussion, this article argues that, to better address society’s systemic discrimination against immigrants, advocates should think critically about whether the strategies they use might advance the interests of some immigrants at the expense of other immigrants. This essay first recounts historic examples of social movements that made strategic choices to exclude certain disadvantaged groups from the reach of their advocacy, leaving behind or actively harming those groups’ interests. Second, this essay discusses the debate over the Dreamer narrative in the current push for immigration reform. And third, this essay draws on various lines of scholarship to propose three strategies for how advocates can cultivate a more inclusive immigrants’ rights movement. Ultimately, as advocates work tirelessly to counter the current surge of hate towards immigrant communities, it is important to continue to keep in mind the longer-term goal of a more sensible and humane immigration system overall.

Keywords: Immigration, Dreamer, Dreamers, DACA, Deferred Action for Children Arrivals, Immigrant, Immigrants’ Rights, Trump

Suggested Citation

Pon, Adrienne, The Dreamer Divide: Aspiring for a More Inclusive Immigrants’ Rights Movement (May 29, 2018). Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, 2018, Available at SSRN:

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