DREAM Act dreaming

In case you missed it, the Dream Act came within a few votes of breaking a filibuster threat and passing the Senate last weekend. Frankly, I have not been able to blog for a while because I became too preoccupied with following every twist and turn of the Dreamer Movement, especially on Twitter, but also across the mainstream and lefty press. I ended up writing a feature story for Boise Weekly along with an Idaho high school student named “Aaron” who will be eligible for the Dream Act, when it passes.

We went through a lot journalistic moralizing in deciding to just call him “Aaron.” If you read the story linked above, you’ll see that one of the main points I deal with is the tactic of “coming out” as undocumented. I did not want to be the adult or the journalist making decisions for Aaron as to how far he should go with his activism. As Tania Unzueta, a Dream activist from Chicago told me:

“It always felt like citizens were making the decision about how much undocumented students can risk,” Unzueta said. “Every time the Dream Act becomes mainstream news, the people who tend to dominate the airwaves are still adults and politicians from the national organizations.”

But I also knew that Aaron was a minor, still in high school in a small town in a rural area of a very red state. And I didn’t want to be the one who geotagged his deportation or put his family at risk. Neither did the Boise Weekly. So we ended up using just his first name. Aaron got famous anyway appearing on the KFTA 970 AM Spanish radio station in Rupert with my friend Ben Reed, El Chupacapras, and attracting a national following on Facebook and Twitter.

I also struggled with the idea of using Boise Weekly (the media) as a vehicle for Aaron’s activism. If he had stood on the statehouse steps with 10 friends and two reporters and outed himself, would that have changed the way we covered it? Was my decision to let Aaron tell his own story, wrapped in my reporting and context appropriate? Is it a new form of journalism that I invented or have collaborations like that always existed?

I’ve been reading a book called Lucia: Testimonies of a Brazilian Drug Dealer’s Woman by Robert Gay that a professor friend loaned me. In the book, Gay provided context on crime and the drug trade in Brazil while reproducing the first hand testimony of Lucia, who lived with various drug kingpins over the course of several years. It’s a really convincing and fascinating way of presenting the story.

I sent Aaron a note after the Saturday morning vote to make sure he was alright and I think he took it better than I did, even taking a global perspective on American politics:

There’s no reason to give up, this doesn’t change anything, this just brings us back to where we started. After this loss I was forced to think beyond the United States, I have to look for options in Mexico in case ‘this’ keeps happenings here at home. I know it’s going to be harder if I do look for options in Mexico, but I have to be ready to take other paths in case this one is a dead end.

Since that vote, the Dreamer movement has vowed to take the fight to the states, fighting for in-state tuition for all state residents, regardless of immigration status and opposing Arizona-like anti-immigrant legislation. But I’m pretty sure the Dream Act will be back. It’s the kind of legislation that takes a decade or more to accomplish but that’s passage is ensured by this continuing experiment in American democracy.

Here is Aaron’s interview with El Chupacabras:

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