DREAMers and Their Families: A Family Impact Analysis of the DREAM Act and Implications for Family Well-Being

Article excerpt

Abstract: Discourse around immigration reform largely centers on economic and national security issues and rarely mentions the well-being of families. This paper applies Family Impact Analysis (FLA) and rhetorical discourse analysis to the congressional hearings, debates, and documents surrounding the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act to examine representations of immigrant families and implications for their well-being. Our analysis reveals that while the discourse in the DREAM Act and related congressional documents gives voice to undocumented children, it undermines family well-being. In particular, the Act promotes the rights of children over their parents discourages family stability and unity, and impacts family interdependence negatively. Findings suggest that further consideration of FLA, in light of immigration reform efforts, is essential to crafting a policy that supports children and families during periods of transition.

Keywords: immigration reform, immigrant families, DREAM Act, family impact analysis, family well-being, family unity


In June 2012, President Barack Obama garnered widespread support especially from the immigrant community for his deferred action executive order, which halted the deportation of some young immigrants. Later, the Latino community rallied behind President Obama, arguably ensuring his second-term victory in the 2012 US Presidential elections. These events ushered in renewed attention to undocumented immigration and opened a window of opportunity for comprehensive immigration reform (Kingdon, 1995). Amidst national immigration reform discussions, one group of undocumented immigrants (children) garnered bi-partisan support in the form of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. Given the salience of immigration in the current political climate, the Act presents a viable initiative in the wake of otherwise failed congressional attempts to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the US.

However, often overlooked in the immigration and DREAM Act discussions are undocumented immigrant children as members of families. Indeed, immigrant families have rarely been given credence in immigration reform discussions (Glick, 2010; Levasseur, Sawyer, & Kopacz, 2011) as arguments for and against immigration reform typically appeal to US national security and economic interests (Demleitner, 2004; Flores, 2003; White House, n.d.). Therefore, it behooves family policymakers, scholars, and practitioners to examine how and to what extent family well-being is considered in the DREAM Act.

To uncover the representations of immigrant children and families in the DREAM Act and the implications for family well-being in the US, Family Impact Analysis (FLA.; Bogenschneider et al., 2012) and rhetorical discourse analysis (Edelman, 1988; Osborn, 1986) were used in the current study. To date, research on immigrant families has been in legal studies (e.g., Demleitner, 2004; Hawthorne, 2007; Motomura, 1995; Shah, 2009), so an approach integrating FLA and rhetorical discourse analysis is a distinct way to study the subject matter. As we argue, our findings reveal that the DREAM Act gives voice to undocumented children (Garcia, 2006; Morales, Herrera, & Murry, 2011), and simultaneously silences immigrant families (Flores, 2003; Glick, 2010; Thronson, 2006). In particular, the Act promotes the rights of children over their parents, discourages family stability and unity, and impacts family interdependence negatively. Before presenting our findings, we first provide a brief history of the DREAM Act followed by a discussion of the methodological framework that guided the study.

A brief history of US immigration reform and the DREAM Act

As early as the 1790s, US immigration laws and reform efforts were catalyzed by the changing demographics of immigrants into the US and international politics (e. …


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