Undocumented and Unafraid: The Emergence of an Undocumented Movement and Its Impact on Immigration Policy, the DREAM Act, DACA, DAPA, and Family Unification

This articles traces the efforts of undocumented students throughout the U.S. to come forward and reveal their status, claim rights, and participate in political and community engagement efforts typical of U.S. citizens by becoming active in student and community organizations, shaping political discourse on immigrant rights, and expanding our conception of what it means to be ‘American.’ Their social activism reflects a strong desire to be full-members of this society. Undocumented youth are deeply concerned about family separation, as many have friends and family who have been deported or face deportation. Despite risk of their own deportation, undocumented students exhibited strength, resilience, and determination by revealing their status and advocating for changes in immigration policy. Deportations break up families, leaving some in the United States, while others are forced to return to their homeland. The article examines the emergence of a network of activist undocumented students who advocated for adoption of the DREAM Act. It explores the impact that movement had on President Obama’s decision to take executive action (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA) and DAPA (which provided protection for parents of undocumented). The advocacy for the DREAM Act, immigration reform, and executive action expanded the social space for undocumented to further re-define their role in civil society as active agents of social change. The current anti-Mexican immigrant rhetoric follows a long tradition of anti-immigrant and nativist opposition to immigration in the U.S. Similarly, the emergence of a movement of undocumented youth parallels, social movements of other marginalized groups who have fought for and eventually won expansion of rights. Undocumented Latinos are shaping political discourse within the broader Latino population and have the potential to increase Latino political participation rates generally, particularly in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. The article builds off of the concept of ‘cultural citizenship,’ first introduced by noted anthropologist Renato Rosaldo and a team co-led by this author (Flores and Benmayor, 1997), which argues that citizenship is contested as new groups arise and claim identity, space, and rights in cultural and social spheres, often leading to claims in political spheres.

Key Take Away Points

  • Context of immigrant rights movement
  • Current political atmosphere, including anti-immigrant rhetoric
  • Brief history of anti-immigrant actions and legislation throughout U.S. history
  • Past efforts at Immigration Reform and efforts to pass the DREAM Act
  • Rise of a movement of undocumented students nationally to support the DREAM Act, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and Executive Action.
  • Development of that movement in Texas, particularly Houston
  • Impact of court decisions on DACA and DAPA
  • Development of undocumented as agents of social change, 'new citizens, and an example of cultural citizenship.
  • Throughout U.S. history, citizenship has been contested with new social movements expanding rights and expanding understanding of who are members of society with social and political rights.
  • Undocumented represented the latest group claims for citizenship and for full democratic rights.

Author Biography

William V. Flores served from August 2009 to February 2016 as president of the University of Houston-Downtown during which time he expanded the university with new bachelor's and master's degrees, led efforts at strategic planning and the development of a new vision, mission, and strategic plan, established a thriving distance education center (UHD Northwest) expanded fundraising, grew enrollments, developed partnerships with industry and governmental agencies, and dramatically increased fundraising, funded-research, and enrollments. He serves on the Governing Board of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. Prior to coming to Houston he served as Deputy Secretary for Higher Education for the State of New Mexico and, earlier, Executive Vice President and Provost of New Mexico State University, where he also served as interim president for one year. Dr. Flores serves as Research Fellow at the Institute for Educational Policy Research and Evaluation (IEPRE) in the College of Education at the University of Houston. He assumes the position of President and Vice Chancellor at Antioch University, Santa Barbara, August 1, 2016.


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