To be a Dreamer is to challenge the status quo. Trump’s “Americans” Don’t Count.

Since Trump rescinded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in September of last year, the fight for a path to citizenship for Dreamers has become one of—if not, the most—urgent and critical legislative issues.

Yet, during his State of the Union speech last week, Trump only made a passing (and insulting) reference to Dreamers—one that received the approval of well-known white nationalist David Duke. Trump’s comments are a reminder that he misunderstands what it means to be a Dreamer altogether. The “dream” in Dreamer does not represent a longing for an American Dream™ that is synonymous with exceptionalism, respectability, and upward social mobility. The dream is a conjuring up of a world that does not yet exist.

During the immigration policy portion of his speech, Trump stated, “My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too [emphasis added].” Disappointing, but not surprising. By co-opting the term “Dreamer” to refer instead to American citizens, Trump’s remarks erased the real people who have called themselves Dreamers for the past 17 years. And in trying to reclaim or appropriate the term we’ve chosen to define our experiences and the exclusions we’ve faced, Trump fundamentally misunderstood what it means to dream.

Undocumented young people including myself began calling ourselves Dreamers soon after the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act was first introduced in Congress in 2001. Since then, undocumented youth have rallied around the term to claim a place in this country and to bring attention to a system that turns our dreams into impossibilities. And while some immigrant activists have recently argued that the term “Dreamer” should be abandoned because it pits exceptional immigrants against unrespectable ones, the Dreamer movement has me convinced of the very opposite: Dreamers are visionaries who question and challenge the status quo. Dreaming is the subversive act of imagining other possible worlds.


Take, for instance, the popular Dreamer Graduation direct actions that have taken place across the U.S. since the early 2000s. During these events, Dreamers don graduation caps and gowns and collectively celebrate their accomplishments, while also bringing awareness to the fact that their dreams to continue their education are often put on hold due to their legal status. Some have staged Dreamer Graduations at Senate Offices and many have been arrested in their gowns, a powerful takeover of government space and overt challenge to the power represented by the federal government. This is dreaming —calling out the inconsistencies in the American Dream and calling for a transformation in society where graduations are celebratory, not somber, events.

Other Dreamers have drawn attention to the violence of the state by traveling to the border and hugging their families through the steel bars that divide the United States from Mexico. These actions demonstrate the pain of family separation and imagine a borderless world. By hosting these direct actions, calling for #Not1MoreDeportation, working with artists to paint over the Mexico-U.S. border wall, rendering the wall invisible, Through their activism, Dreamers create the very futures they’re working towards.

Trump’s Dream is rooted in American exceptionalism and the elusive American Dream™. But Dreamers insist that the American Dream never existed, not for us anyways. Dreaming reminds us that liberty and justice for all never existedDreaming is an orientation towards possibility, but not the possibility suggested by Trump’s American Dream, where hardworking individuals pull themselves up by the bootstraps and seek inclusion into the status quo.

Dreaming is rooted in emancipatory politics. The dream does not belong to Trump’s Americans. It never has.

Header image via LA Times.

Durham, NC

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

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