Communication ETDs

Publication Date



This project centers on the advocacy of undocumented immigrant youth to realize the passage of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a narrowly tailored bipartisan legislation that would provide qualifying undocumented youth a pathway to citizenship. Using a Latino/a Critical Race framework to address socio-political discourses surrounding the immigration debate, my analysis presents the ways undocumented youth communicated about their identity and agency and the ways they constructed their demands publicly in seeking passage of the DREAM Act during the years 2001 to 2010. This research purposefully departs from the traditional modality of research and conceptualizes political work as centered in the research process. To conduct this research, I spent eleven months of fieldwork participating with DREAM activist groups in California, New Mexico, and other states nationally. The data was drawn from an estimated 400 hours of fieldwork, 10 in-depth personal interviews of activists in leadership positions, and secondary accounts of the DREAM youth movement. This study's findings point to three progressive phases of the DREAM social movement, with unique internal and external strategies used to advocate for social change. The first phase covers 2001 through 2007, where self-identification strategies were used to create a collective group identity that countered the negative dehumanizing typecast of "illegal aliens" by identifying DREAMers as exceptional students. During the second phase, from 2007 to 2009, self-representation strategies worked to unite undocumented youth through the creation of national coalitional organizations and through self-identification as undocumented and unafraid. During the third phase, spanning the months from May to December 2010, participating activists utilized strategies of self-reliance and self-identified as unapologetic DREAMers. The strategies of intervention included the use of civil disobedience tactics to petition for the legislation. This study points to a progressive sense of vocality, agency, and empowerment for the DREAM-eligible youth involved in this social movement. Finally, this study offers a discussion about the current state of the DREAM Act and includes suggestions and implications for the future of the social movement.




Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, activism, immigrant youth, DREAM Act, social movement, discursive strategies, Latino/a Race Theory

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Foss, Karen

First Committee Member (Chair)

Milstein, Tema

Second Committee Member

Cramer, Janet

Third Committee Member

Galvan Trinidad, Ruth

Project Sponsors

UNM-Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Doctoral Fellowship in Social and Humanistic Studies