The American Dream(ers): Undocumented Youth’s (Re)interpretation of Social Movement Frames

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Zevallos, Kevin
social movements; frames; undocumented; youth; dreamers
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The dreamer narrative and its accompanying frames have become a staple of immigration debates in the United States. Dreamer narratives afford undocumented youth organizations visibility to articulate their socio-political needs. As undocumented youth make claims for legal and social recognition, they utilize dreamer frames that highlight undocumented youth as productive, patriotic, and/or deserving members of U.S. society. Based on 18 semi-structured interviews with undocumented youth and Connecticut state legislators and participant observation of undocumented youth-led rallies, lobbying campaigns and organizational meetings, I examine how undocumented youth organizers react, respond and utilize nationally derived social movement frames in a local context. I found that undocumented youth share ambivalence about using dreamer frames but believe it to be the only way to achieve their political goals. I argue that undocumented youth’s ambivalence with using the dreamer frame stems from (1) a sense of betrayal towards their families, (2) the fear of further marginalization of other immigrants, and (3) a disconnect between their own personal experiences and the narratives highlighted by the dreamer frame. This research contributes to the sociology of social movements by showing how nationally-constructed frames are modified to suit the needs and political goals of local immigrant rights organizations.