Summer Reading Series: Right to DREAM: Immigration Reform and America’s Future

BookCoverThis week’s column continues the summer reading series, a look at books—both recent and decades old—that shed light on history and everyday life in central Arkansas. Published this year by the University of Arkansas Press, Right to DREAM: Immigration Reform and America’s Future is a look at the the importance of the DREAM ACT and the larger questions of immigration reform, especially for the approximately 2.1 million young men and women who were brought to the United States as young children.

Written by University of Arkansas sociologist William A Schwab, this book draws from interviews with several young undocumented immigrants living in northwest Arkansas. Raised in Arkansas, they speak English with Arkansas accents and often graduate at the top of their high school class. “They are American in every sense but their immigration status,” Schwab notes. To deny them citizenship is to penalize them for the actions of their parents who came to the United States fleeing violence, corruption, and poverty in their homes communities. Schwab takes on the critics of the DREAM act and explores the near-impossibilities of so-called voluntary deportation and re-entry, outlining how ineffective this would be.

The book outlines the larger argument in favor of the DREAM Act, a bill first introduced in 2001 by Republican senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democrat Richard Durbin of Illinois. The “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would provide a clear path to citizenship for young people brought here as minors. The Act has stalled in a gridlocked Senate, but many states, including Arkansas, are trying to pass the act at the state level. The DREAM act would offer a path to citizenship for these young people who want so desperately to serve their communities and work toward a stronger Arkansas for all.

These young DREAMers, as they are often called, do not possess the correct paperwork, and therefore can’t get a driver’s license, can not attend Arkansas colleges without paying out of state tuition (thus rendering the cost too high for most families), can not travel, apply for work, and live with constant fear of possible deportation. Were they to be deported, Schwab notes, they would return to a place they left as young children, many of them too young to even remember. These young people are caught between two nations, Schwab explains, belonging to neither. Drawing from conversations with many of these young activists, Schwab argues they are also some of our country’s brightest thinkers and entrepreneurs, and denying them full citizenship does a disservice to everyone.

We’re a nation of immigrants, and unless a person can claim to be fully Native American, all of our relatives came from somewhere else, many of them quite recently. Schwab touches on the numerous waves of immigration and the backlash against each wave, including the phases that led to the immigration laws we have today. The book’s greatest strength is the human stories of undocumented Arkansas youth, like Zessna Garcia, who was raised in Arkansas and who recently became an outspoken activist for the DREAM Act. She’s currently enrolled at the University of Arkansas, but can only take one class at a time given the cost of nonresident tuition. She cares deeply about Arkansas and its future.

There’s also Juan Mendez who came to Arkansas as a young boy when his parents sought to escape violence and corruption in Mexico. Mendez owns a thriving business, making large contributions to the state economy. Yet Mendez can’t apply for a driver’s license given his immigration status. The DREAM Act would be a step in the right direction for these young people caught in the balance. You can learn more about the book and the DREAM Act via the links below. Thanks so much for reading!

Learn more about the book here. 

United We DREAM

DREAM Activist.org

Arkansas United Community Coalition