Can the DREAM Act Succeed With Assimilationist Messaging?

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Gregory Rodriguez's Op-Ed today in the LA Times is characteristic of much of this year's pro-DREAM Act messaging in that it doesn't challenge many basic principles of the current immigration and citizenship regime. I had hoped, along with many others, that the DREAM Act targeted such an egregious injustice and the beneficiaries were so sympathetic that the bill could be carried into law on the strength of its intuitive power without disturbing the legal system that keeps Dreamers undocumented. The DREAM Act could then have been a foothold for reforming the system, as newly empowered and legalized Dreamers led their communities to a broader victory.

It was a close call, but in the end, the system was too strong for this strategy to succeed in 2010. Instead, Dreamers, other undocumented activists, and allies may need to do the hard work of challenging the system itself, which means deconstructing the ideas about citizenship, identity, community, and loyalty that the immigration regime is based on. This runs counter to much established DREAM Act messaging, which has often adopted themes of patriotism, assimilation, and loyalty that have also been effectively used by nativists to justify exclusionary immigration and citizenship laws.

Perhaps the current ideological trajectory for DREAM is the right one after all, and just requires persistence, patience, and more effective electoral organizing. But such a path to the DREAM Act would be a hollow victory if it strengthened the "us vs. them" immigration narrative and undermined the prospect of legalization for all.

I'll leave for now as a thought exercise to the reader to identify the assumptions on which Rodriguez bases his argument for the DREAM Act and alternative ideas which might lead to better long-term results. I'm also open to the possibility that alternative messaging would be unrealistic and counterproductive. Please share any insights in comments to this post. From his Op-Ed:

I'm not a flaming liberal on immigration issues. I don't believe, as some activists have insisted, that illegal immigrants should be given the right to vote in municipal elections. I am concerned about the growing number of immigrants -- particularly wealthy ones -- who choose dual citizenship for themselves and their children, a practice I fear leads to split or weakened loyalties. I understand that we can't simply open our borders to all.

Still, critics of the DREAM Act are wrong to think the legislation would somehow encourage illegal immigration and diminish the value of U.S. citizenship. That kind of thinking stems from opponents thinking of citizenship in only the most narrow, legal terms. Ultimately, national citizenship and the rules that govern it are meant to limit membership. The assumption, of course, is that the people the rules govern are foreigners, who stand on the outside looking in, desperate to qualify for membership in an exclusive club but ignorant about its culture and traditions.

The DREAM Act was meant to benefit a very different group: the already Americanized children of illegal immigrants who, as one undocumented student recently wrote, may have fallen asleep in Michoacán one day and awakened the next in Boyle Heights. It was designed to legalize the status of young people who did not themselves break the law to come here, but were brought unwittingly and often have no memory of any other home. Moreover, the law would have applied only to those who had shown a commitment to education or joined the military. In other words, the DREAM Act would have legally conferred Americanness on individuals who were already rooted culturally, geographically in the United States, and in the promise of the American dream.

I believe, as the late liberal philosopher Richard Rorty once wrote, that love of nation is a necessary requirement for making a country a better place to live. Today, air travel, international trade and digital technology have blurred all sorts of jurisdictional lines between nation states. But when push comes to shove, I think nations should require their citizens to choose one loyalty over all others. And the Dream Act was aimed precisely at people who have done that.

Patriotism is rooted in attachment to home and community, and the DREAM Act was written to benefit people who demonstrated their attachment by pursuing an education or through service to the country. In the late 18th century, when the U.S. was new, it was this sort of patriotism and love of country that the founders expected from anyone who wanted to become a citizen.

The debate over the Dream Act was disappointing in part because it was a wasted opportunity to explore the connection between community and patriotism, to examine geographic rootedness and what it means to be American. It was our chance to begin understanding Americanness more broadly as encompassing loyalty to and common fate with the people who share our towns and cities.

It's not that legality does not matter. It does. This country, like any other, has the right -- and the need -- to police its borders. But when we deny legal status to young people who have spent most of their lives here, have no other country and are American in everything but legal status, we miss the point and ultimate benefit of patriotism, which is to make our country and its thousands of communities more cohesive and better places to live.


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In yesterday's post, I highlighted Gregory Rodriguez's recent Op-Ed as typifying some messaging flaws that many of us had hoped would bear short-term fruit with passage of the DREAM Act but which I fear may undermine long term goals... Read More

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Pablo Author Profile Page said:

Regarding the following passage --

Dreamers, other undocumented activists, and allies may need to do the hard work of challenging the system itself, which means deconstructing the ideas about citizenship, identity, community, and loyalty that the immigration regime is based on.

...OR they might have to finally do the easy work of not getting arrested symbolically, or organizing to sing & pray together. Instead, centralize resources; hire one or more of the most-brutal lobby shops on the Hill; and get the DREAM done in some early-morning or late-night vote that no one pays attention to for months until television's favorite ass-clowns decide it's time again to blame Obama for everything again.

Then, sir, you have the American DREAM Act. But even then, fanfare should be avoided...wholly avoided. The more satisfied you appear with the victory, the more unnecessary CIR becomes.

Instead, it's up to the DREAMers to be stoic in victory, no more than quietly satisfied with the touchdown. Ultimately, the game is for CIR, and we're losing and have been for decades.

Already, more & more I hear the support that's being jockeyed up closed-door for an eventual CIR bill is discussed in terms of legislation so diluted of any actionable meaning in the lives of my illegal brethren, the battle is again lost before the fight even begins.

DREAMers, undocumented immigrants, Latinos generally need some legitimate lobbyists; and when I say legitimate, I don't mean lobbyists who run a 10 person shop representing 1/80th of a defense contractor somewhere out in Silver Springs, or an obedient CHCI-turned-socialite-attorney at a Anglo & Assoc. in Dupont. No, illegal immigrants and downtrodden Latinos in this country need a small, fearless, limited-liability partnership between professional brown villains with the sort of brutish instincts for political judo that murder public options for healthcare and pass tax cuts for the rich...indeed, legislative Tony Montanas who understand the DREAM is barely salsa on the CIR enchilada. Illegal Americans need operatives on the Hill who will pay who they must and crush who they must and collaborate thoughtfully with whomever is useful to get this thing through Congress as quickly, painlessly, and quietly as possible.

This runs counter to much established DREAM Act messaging, which has often adopted themes of patriotism, assimilation, and loyalty that have also been effectively used by nativists to justify exclusionary immigration and citizenship laws.

Oh. My bad.

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This page contains a single entry by David Bennion published on December 27, 2010 11:40 PM.

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