What to do (and what not to do) when writing about Dreamers

Dreamers at the Guardian office in Washington, DC. Photo by Evelyn Hockstein, courtesy The Guardian.

Editor’s note: This piece is co-published with The Guardian, which has invited a team of Dreamers to guest-edit the US edition for the next three days. In October, Guardian editors met with the team of Dreamers—undocumented immigrants who first came to the US as children—for the first time to discuss commissions for the project. What did our panel of Dreamers want to see more of in the news? What issues could be better covered? Did they have any tips for journalists working on stories about their lives, and their right to stay in the US? The answer was a resounding yes—and their recommendations are below.

  1. We’re not all Mexican

Though a lot, about 79 percent, of us are. People who were born in Mexico have a much different experience than those from places like Guatemala, South Korea and India. Also, Mexico is big, and we’re not all from Mexico City.

  1. Don’t say we were “brought” here

We don’t like sentences such as: “Caitlin’s mother brought her to the US from Guatemala when she was nine” in news stories. The word “brought” implies we are powerless, even if we have been capable of leaving the US for years and are adults with jobs. Try: “Caitlin came to the US from Guatemala when she was nine.”

  1. We don’t all have 4.2 GPAs

We understand a great student who is involved with their community is a sympathetic character, but everyone who qualifies for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is worthy of deportation relief. The stories of the best and brightest, the model immigrants, aren’t more important than those who have to work low-paying jobs because of their immigration status, or who drop out of school to help their families.

  1. Don’t blame our parents

They made the best decision they could for us, and have often made much bigger sacrifices than we have. They risked their lives to try to get us a better future. We wouldn’t be here without them, and their sacrifices are what makes it possible for us to fight for our future in the US.

  1. DACA is not amnesty

Thanks to anti-immigrant political rhetoric, some people have taken it as fact that DACA grants us amnesty. In reality, the program grants two years of deportation relief that can be revoked. At no point did the program put us on a path to citizenship.

  1. Our future is not an item to cross off a list
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Don’t treat it like a budget line item. When writing policy stories, keep in mind that these decisions have a huge impact on our lives.

  1. Our community is not defined by our status

Immigration activists aren’t just fighting for legal status for themselves; they are fighting for the communities they live in. By seeking fair treatment, Dreamer activists also hope to improve their communities by setting higher standards for issues like education and criminal justice.

  1. This isn’t just about immigration

We also want better representation for other underrepresented groups—like the LGBT community and other racial minorities.

  1. Don’t present us as a bargaining chip

We’re nearly 800,000 people, not just a tool for politicians to get more votes or sneak in other political wins. Our lives can’t be used for policies that aren’t representative of our community.

  1. Don’t victimize us

We know more about our situation than anyone and we’re fighting it. Ask us about it, and give us a voice. We don’t need your pity.

Itzel Guillen, Irving Hernandez, and Allyson Duarte are Dreamers who, with Guardian editors, are guest-editing the US edition of The Guardian.