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DREAM Act, citizenship, and mobilization

Migration A–Z


  1. Walter J. Nicholls

Published Online: 4 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444351071.wbeghm587

The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration

The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration

How to Cite

Nicholls, W. J. 2013. DREAM Act, citizenship, and mobilization. The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 4 FEB 2013


The late 2000s marked an important shift in the immigrant rights movement. It was the period in which undocumented youths became an organized constituency and moved to assert their power within the general immigrant rights movement. Undocumented immigrants had long been represented by professional rights associations. These associations assumed critical roles in framing immigrants and their cause and representing them to the media, public, and politicians. They assumed this same role in advocating the passage of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a piece of legislation that promised to provide undocumented college students a path to citizenship. Playing this role, rights associations produced a mobilizing frame that represented youths to the general public and created an infrastructure to form these youths into a relatively coherent group. These efforts provided undocumented youths with a sympathetic voice in the public sphere. However, as the youths gained the know-how and skills to become talented social-movement players in their own right, they criticized the strategic choices of leading associations and called into question their legitimacy to represent undocumented immigrants. This case provides key insights into three aspects of the contemporary immigrant rights movement in the United States: 1) how highly stigmatized undocumented immigrants transform themselves into legitimate political subjects; 2) how well-established rights associations play strategic roles in “representing” undocumented immigrants in the public sphere; and 3) how the assumption of this leadership role introduces dissent between undocumented activists and professional advocacy groups.


  • American borderlands;
  • citizenship;
  • social policy;
  • social justice;
  • protests;
  • cross-cultural