In late July, a group of undocumented activists staged an unconventional protest in response to the Obama administration’s deportation policies. Dressed in graduation attire complete with decorated caps and colorful sashes, the nine individuals walked across the United States border to go “home” to Mexico. However, when they attempted to re-enter the United States and return to the cities and communities they truly call home, they were arrested and subsequently sent to the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona.
Named after the Dream Act, which offers undocumented youth a pathway to citizenship, the Dream 9’s controversial protest drew national attention to the already heated debate on immigration. While these individuals compose just a fraction of the millions of undocumented individuals living in the United States, the Dream 9 reveal larger issues at hand beyond their protest. Here are four reasons why the Dream 9’s form of activism strikes a nerve with the complexity of current immigration policy:
1. Immigration leaders feel divided about their protest.
Not everyone is in agreement with the sentiments of the Dream 9, who received help from the National Youth Immigration Alliance in staging the event. In one case, legal advocate David Leopold relayed to VOXXI that “I think this is a publicity stunt that doesn’t do anything to move the ball forward in terms of immigration reform.” Conversely, journalist Eileen Truax feels “…they’re trying to cause a shift that will force the political game to stop being a political game. They’re trying to make it a human rights issue.”
Many others have weighed in on the protest, and while the Dream 9 have received criticism and praise, individuals like Leopold and Traux, despite being on opposite sides of the spectrum, feel the Dream 9 are within their rights.
2. They’ve raised the profile for fellow Dreamers.
Alongside the Dream 9, millions of other individuals remain in limbo, constantly in fear for their livelihoods and the threat of deportation. In fact, three of the activists self-deported before the protest even occurred, having already felt the pressure of having to constantly look over their shoulder while living in the United States. The Dream 9 raise the profile for other Dreamers and their families, and puts a face to the hotly contested issue.
3. They’re encouraging youth activism and outreach.
While community leaders have varying opinions over the Dream 9’s course of action, they have brought the power of youth activism to the forefront. Ranging from ages 20-37, the Dream 9 prove that youth can have their voice heard in their communities. Moreover, organizations like the National Immigration Youth Alliance help support youth in similar situations, and teach them about the resources available to them and their families.
4. Their story is far from over.
After spending two weeks at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona following an attempt to re-enter the United States, the Dream 9 have been released from federal custody and can return to their families. However, this protest does not end here — in fact, it could extend for a period of several years. Why? The nine now seek asylum under credible fear, but according to legal analysts, this process could take years to litigate. Even so, as their stories continue, so will the debate on U.S. immigration and deportation policy.
Organizers and the Dream 9 knew the risk involved with the protest, but felt they could have made more of an impact at the policy and government level if they took to the next step — literally. Despite the schism produced from the event, this divide between critics and supporters is actually a good thing.
The Dreamers have gotten community leaders, politicians and the nation contributing more to the discussion on immigration reform, showing that much is at stake if policies remain the same. Supporters and critics alike must acknowledge that every undocumented individual deserves recognition, and the Dream 9 have shown what measures people will take to achieve just that.
Photo Credit: Todd Dwyer