As a student who has studied and personally seen the impact of stress and stigma on marginalized groups’ abilities to succeed socially, psychologically, and economically, I encourage you to vote “Yes” on the Dream Act of 2017.
The recently proposed Succeed Act offers a fifteen-year pathway to legal residency for children who arrived in the U.S. illegally, during which young men and women are expected to adhere to high standards of conduct and productivity. I believe that the goal behind this piece of legislation is to ensure that the individuals who gain legal status through this process are high performing, outstanding individuals who will contribute to our nation through the armed services, through education, and through work.
However, I fear that this legislation will curb immigrants’ ability to contribute to society at their highest capacities. Sociologist Roberto Gonzales of Harvard writes of the “transition to illegality” that Dreamers experience. He proposes that when individuals discover their illegal status in the United States, they must adjust their expectations of self to their new identity as an illegal immigrant. As a result, they typically set lower expectations for themselves, which have very real impacts on what they actually achieve.
Similarly, through his research of stereotyping in marginalized groups, social psychologist Claude Steele has coined the term “stereotype threat.” This theory proposes that societal expectations about an individual’s ability to succeed limit that individual. In other words, people become what society expects them to be.
I agree with Gonzeles’ and Steele’s theories because I personally have seen them play out in marginalized groups in the U.S. and abroad. I have seen individuals experiencing homelessness fail to obtain gainful employment because they have come to believe themselves to be inferior, lazy, and incapable. I have seen impoverished communities in Ghana, Africa, fail to develop because they believe that they are “poor Africans” who must depend on Western aid to alleviate their poverty. On the contrary, it has been in the instances where people are esteemed and affirmed that I have seen them rise above expectations. For instance, in my work with refugees, I have seen how the legal security that refugees receive upon arrival in the U.S. is one of their greatest assets in succeeding. I believe that it is a large contributor to the fact that over 84% of refugees are self-sufficient within three months of arrival. Their legal status equips them to overcome other obstacles and create businesses, obtain educations, and experience flourishing lives.
In regards to legislation impacting Dreamers, I fear that a drawn-out process for obtaining legal residency will be counterproductive. The continued stress of fearing that they may lose their opportunity to become legal residents as well as the social stigma that comes with being “illegal” would prevent them from ascertaining the very goals that this bill requires. I believe that if Dreamers are given a quicker pathway to citizenship through the Dream Act, then the security and confidence that their legal status would provide would lead them to be more capable of contributing to U.S. society. I believe that if we give them legal status, they will give back their lives in hard, passionate, thriving work and dedication to our country. They will thrive, and so will our nation.
For all of these reasons and more, I hope that you vote “Yes” on the Dream Act of 2017.