Second-Wave DREAMers

69 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2024

See all articles by Nina Rabin

Nina Rabin

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

Date Written: December 31, 2023


This Article compares and contrasts two waves of child migrants that have shaped the U.S. immigration policy agenda and debate over the past twenty years, in order to draw lessons about how public schools and policymakers can best serve today’s immigrant students. The first wave of undocumented children, who arrived in the two decades after 1986 and are often referred to as DREAMers, experienced schools as a place of refuge, where they could spend their formative years without distinctions drawn based on immigration status. This experience was the result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982), which held that immigration status has no place in the context of K-12 education. In sharp contrast, immigrant children arriving since 2014 do not experience schools as a place of refuge. This Article describes these recent newcomer children as “second-wave DREAMers.”

Unlike “first-wave” DREAMers, recent child migrants tend to arrive at an older age, separated from family, and immediately after experiencing trauma both in their home country and in their protracted migration journeys. Importantly, most of today’s child migrants are entangled with immigration enforcement from the moment of their arrival. This stands in striking contrast to the previous generation of immigrant children, who largely arrived as small children with their families and lived undetected by the immigration bureaucracy until the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. As a result of the current controversy over unaccompanied minors and asylum-seeking families, much of the advocacy and media surrounding recently arrived child migrants focuses on their treatment at the border and in immigration court. But their growing numbers in school classrooms and communities calls for additional focus on their lives beyond the border—and requires a new, modernized reading of Plyler. Drawing lessons from the vibrancy of the DREAMer movement but also its devastating inconclusiveness, schools must take a different approach to this new generation of child migrants. This approach can be conceptualized as shifts along three key axes of the Plyler decision: from assimilation to inclusion, from formally equal to equitable education, and from innocence to collective responsibility. These shifts are not simply rhetorical; they result in pragmatic and specific programs and policies, which if implemented systematically would formulate a central role for schools in creating a path toward full social integration of today’s immigrant children.

Keywords: immigration, children, education

Suggested Citation

Rabin, Nina, Second-Wave DREAMers (December 31, 2023). Yale Law & Policy Review, Vol. 42, No. 107, 2023, Available at SSRN:

Nina Rabin (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

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