On September 9th 2017 I attended the DACA rally held in front of the Rhode Island Statehouse, in support of the DREAMERS. Two days earlier, on September 5th, the Trump Administration had made the announcement of its plan to repeal the DACA Program signed under President Obama. The announcement projected the termination date of October which gave DACA beneficiaries less than a month to gather what few bearings they could before once again facing an unprotected status as immigrants in the United States.
A few peers and a number of strangers were brave enough to share their heartfelt and emotional testimonies in front of the gathered crowd. As I looked around, I saw friends and strangers all passionately chanting denouncing Trump and xenophobic rhetoric. The chanting held a very desperate tone and the air a palpable frustration. I remember seeing a girl next to me clinging to a cardboard sign so hard, that her fingers were turning yellow. Although the protest had been planned ahead of the White House announcement, the general mood of the crowd felt intensified by the hurt of the recent announcement. I couldn’t help but think that this protest was not only a way to make the DREAMERS voices heard, but maybe the ONLY strategic way to voice dissent in the face of the Trump Administration.
The narrative for the DREAMER movement pre-DACA and pre-Trump was very formulaic and rigid. The narrative of the dreamer movement had very intentional organization and very intentional representation. The narrative was meant to tackle existing stereotypes surrounding young immigrants involving criminality, cultural differences, and as their unlawful presence as the underbelly of American society. DREAMERS presented themselves as normal American citizens, that attended the same schools, listened to the same music, and believed in the same core American values as anyone else– the only difference being they hadn’t been born here. They came out conducting interviews on mainstream news outlets in fluent, perfectly spoken English to get the point across. Social media campaigns had videos of an undocumented high school valedictorian give a moving speech go viral. They intentionally highlighted and amplified the educational merits and achievements that many DREAMERS had, to appeal to the shared value of meritocracy and that “pull yourself by your bootstraps” rhetoric that American politics loves to feed off of. The most interesting of these points is how they were able to “purify” themselves from the criminalization aspect by claiming that they were children and therefore had no agency or choice in the matter. They were able to distance themselves from the laws they broke when entering the country unlawfully by exacerbating their lack of agency in the matter. In front of the American public, however, someone had to pay the price. So buy innocently shedding off the blame, it slid right onto the shoulders of the parents of the Dreamers. A narrative that has been subject to heavy critique and change ever since the stark contrast between the success of attaining the DACA program compared to the failure of the Deferred Actions for Parents of Americans (DAPA) which didn’t survive after the 4-4 Supreme Court vote and eventual rescission of the executive order altogether by the Trump Administration.
Now, the DREAMER movement has taken a slightly different approach but contextualizing their parents within this narrative. They have now created the hashtag #originaldreamer as a way to address and justify the issue of criminality by placing parents of dreamers in the same light. This is an opposing narrative to that of Trump as portrayed by his now infamous comments about “Mexico not sending their best.”
A non-violent approach protest and rally seems like the only way to go. For the DREAMER movement, aggressive tactics would not be very favorable because their entire narrative is built on merit, educational achievement, and clean criminal records. Immigrant identities, especially Black and Brown ones, have already been criminalized in the common political discourse to such an extent, that the DREAMER movement walks a very fine line in order to keep the fragile legitimacy they hold in American politics. As discussed in the study by Stephan and Chenoweth (2008), civil resistance is more effective than violent conflict. Violent forms of protest would hurl the movement backwards. If basic forms of civil disobedience by American citizens is now the point of much contingency (i.e. the Colin Kaepernick controversy), then anything more aggressive than that carried out by an immigrant would be unaccepted by many.
Moving forward the DREAMER movement needs to once again, regroup, and re-strategize to gain momentum once more. Though this administration has made its stance and unwillingness to negotiate or compromise very clear, there is a potential window of opportunity at the end of Trump’s term if he does not win reelection.
Though the DREAMER movement might not be able to achieve much legislatively with the current administration, it can use this time to reframe the narrative, and once again open conversations about who has the right to freely be in this country. Perhaps even building coalitions with other movements to add numbers and momentum.
This protest reminded me of a different protest in Late January of 2017. The protest was against Trump’s executive order now referred to as the refugee ban. As a Los Angeles native, I was surprised and aware of how many times Roger Williams and Rhode Island’s history were mentioned. Rhode Island’s Puritan and historic protection of religious freedom was a big presence in the rally itself and in other instances of other people’s speeches. Religious freedom and religious persecution is a topic of specific sensitivity for the people of Rhode Island– something that as a California native I had neglected to detect. I believe that this sense of tolerance translates into other legislation as well. Whether it’s towards providing licenses to undocumented drivers or supporting DACA recipients after Trump’s most recent legislative power play– Rhode Island’s history of tolerance always seems to have a resonance with its population. This was the first time I witnessed the importance of the emotional historical pull to garner support. The second time I witnessed it was at this rally.
The DREAMER movement, or just more broadly immigration rights movements in the United States need to find an umbrella common history that appeals to most Americans to build momentum. But if it wants to be more successful, it needs to expand its inclusion of what type of immigrants qualify as “dreamers”, and not just the parents, because if it doesn’t successfully create a more universally applicable rhetoric, the movement will always operate with the sensationalization of the criminalization of immigrants lurking in the shadows undermining the movement as a whole.
Today, we see a Round 2 of the DACA repeal as the Trump Administration just announced the cancellation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for certain many Latin American, Caribbean, and African countries. As more and more specific groups are targeted and marginalized, the DREAMER movement has clearer and more obvious allies to chose from. A Washington Post article by Erica Chenoweth titled “People are out on the streets protesting Trump. But when does protesting actually work?” mentions that the average non-violent campaign lasts about three years. There are incidentally three years left to Trump’s presidency….