Friday, July 1, 2011

The Dream Act and Everyday Activism

“Punished for an inherited crime” – that’s how advocates of the Dream Act (officially the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) would describe the approximately 65,000 undocumented, illegal immigrants who graduate from our high schools in the United States every year.

The Dream Act, which was reintroduced on May 11th, 2011 in the Senate (S. 952), would grant certain immigrant students who have grown up in the US (those brought here before they were 15 years old)  “conditional permanent residence” for up to six years after their high school graduation, upon acceptance to college or enrollment in the military. Further, it would carve a pathway for them to become permanent citizens if they graduate from college or complete their military service.  Hopefully it would also decrease barriers to higher education through repealing the federal fine levied on States that give in-state tuition to individuals who graduated from high school in the state, regardless of immigration status. (It would not force States to provide in-state tuition to illegal residents) and making certain types of federal student loans available to these students.

Activist Art by Carol Belisia

The Dream Act would serve as an enabler for these students – allowing them to have some control over their future. As an undocumented, illegal immigrant (who, by the way, did not make the choice to immigrate here for his or herself) the stress of being caught and the lack of opportunities after high school can be debilitating. (Besides, if they get caught and deported, where will they be sent to? Most of them grew up in the States).

Independent of where you stand on immigration issues, this act is in clear alignment with Community Psychology’s focus on empowerment and America’s shared values of opportunity, education, and achievement.

            From (Community Psychology's web home)
                       Our members are committed to promoting health and empowerment and
                          preventing problems in communities, groups, and individuals.

So how do you get involved? SCRA could get involved as an organization, at the policy level. Perhaps (they would be in good company; here’s the list of organizations who endorsed the original 2005 act; notice there are no psychology organizations included). But what about individual, practicing community psychologists (and community psychology fans/friends), who may or may not work in immigration issues? What can we do?

The first step, I believe, is to take the capital “P” off of this issue. Yes, it’s political – but it doesn’t help to think about it in terms of Democrats v. Republicans, or in terms of larger immigration issues (it's actually a bi-partisan bill).  Rather, reframe it as a question of values, and focus on this specific population - high school graduates.  (Opponents of the Dream Act often claim that they are against "amnesty" for illegal immigrants; technically the Dream Act doesn't give out amnesty, but let's not get caught up in details).
Second, advocate. Now, I don’t mean write letters, march on Washington or organize protests. While there is a place for all of those things, they might not be feasible for you right now. I understand that. Advocacy (a core competency for Community Psychology Practice) can be as simple as increasing awareness of an issue – influencing how someone thinks about an issue. Advocacy involves giving support to an idea/concept, and acting on behalf of someone else.

So maybe your neighbor’s position on immigration is “send them all home.” Or your University is voting to expel all undocumented students. Without taking a big “P” political position which will likely make people defensive, we can advocate for facts, an ecological understanding of the issue, and rational, non-ideological thinking – and hopefully influence decision-making processes as well as individual attitudes.

In the age of media misinformation, we have the responsibility to be advocates for the truth in our communities. In the context of growing inequalities, we have the professional responsibility to work for social justice.

Whether it’s about this issue or another one, what “Everyday Advocacy” methods have you tried? Have they been successful?

For further information on the Dream Act, I suggest the following resources:

Post by Sharon Hakim
Wichita State University

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