The image we have lately of “the DREAMers” is that of a group of confident, outgoing young activists who have been fighting for their right to stay in the country. However, DREAMers have suffered their share of psychological consequences from being separated from their families, having lived in constant apprehension due to their immigration status, and having to face anti-immigrant feelings. DREAMers are fighters, alright.
The worst part, many DREAMers would tell you, has been the uncertainty about their future. An uncertainty that has led many to acting out their fears and to feel it’s not worth to excel at school, for example, because they won’t be able to go to college anyway.
Some DREAMers have felt unwanted in the country and many have grown angry and frustrated because they haven’t been able to travel back and forth to visit the relatives they left behind, or take a plane because they didn’t have documents, or even drive a car because they weren’t issued a driver’s license. The reasons why their parents brought them to the United States might have started to seem no longer suitable.
And thus, many of these DREAMers are also survivors of depression – although they might not have shared this with others. Mental health issues are taboo for many Hispanics. For many, it’s something else they have had to hide from public view.
More than 10 years after the introduction of the first version of the federal DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), which would grant higher education and a path to citizenship for undocumented youth, DREAMers’ hopes have been swinging up and down. Up, for example, when the act passed on the House in 2010, down when it failed to pass in 2005.
Creating alliances to face their challenges
This year, DREAMers upped up their activism.
Stirred by the suicide of undocumented immigrant Joaquin Luna, 18, last December, and then the suicide attempts by Yanelli Hernandez, 22, after she was arrested for a DIU early this year, grassroots organizations, campus-based student groups and individuals committed to achieving equality for immigrant youths launched the National Immigrant Youth Alliance and created the Undocuhealth.org site.
Luna had left a letter to Jesus Christ asking for forgiveness and stating: “I’ve realized that I have no chance in becoming a civil engineer the way I’ve always dreamed of here.”
Immigrant youths around the country held vigils in January as part of the “Undocumented Youth Mental Health Day” organized in response to the imminent deportation of Yanelli who was eventually sent back to her country of origin.
The Alliance has fought to help people understand that many of these youngsters who were uprooted from their countries and families of origin go through the doldrums when they come here.
The undocuhealth.org site is meant to become a resource, and a way to address the mental health issues that come along with being young and undocumented.
“A lot of our very active DREAM leaders contemplated suicide or have dealt with depression, so it’s a very real thing for us,” the National Immigrant Youth Alliance’s Mohammad Abdollahi told Colorlines.com
You might want to take a look at the compelling stories published in the Alliance’s site.
Sit-ins and hesitation
In June this year, DREAMers staged sit-ins around the country that resulted in Obama’s deferred action announcement.
And DREAMers have, no doubt, welcomed President Obama’s halting of deportations in June. However, deferred action has also stirred some fears among these youngsters.
What ifs are torturing their minds.
The DREAMers have been stepping up and identifying themselves as undocumented, but what if… they are coming out only to find that they’re exposing themselves to the immigration authorities, some have wondered.
What if… Obama is not re-elected.
What if… Mitt Romney, who has vowed to veto the DREAM Act, sits on the president’s desk next year.
What if… their parents are still deported.
Mariella Saavedra wrote for Americasvoiceonine.org that becoming a DREAMer activist never completely alleviated the pressure she felt inside. Now, the deferred action announcement by the Obama administration has brought ambivalent feelings in her. She has seen too many tears, she said. She knows there is occasion to celebrate but tells herself, not yet. Life has taught her to be cautious.
There is still this sadness of knowing that even though their situation as youngsters might now improve; their families will continue to live in the same conditions. Saavedra vows to continue fighting for a comprehensive immigration reform though. As many other DREAMers do too.