Describing itself as a “nonpartisan” network of 52 affiliate organizations in 25 states, United We Dream (UWD)—with thousands of members across the U.S.—professes to be “the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation.”
UWD was formed in December 2008, when the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) took the lead in organizing a Washington, DC conference where leaders of various immigrant-rights groups gathered to discuss “future advocacy efforts” aimed at “ensur[ing] that immigrant youth obtain access to legal status and higher education.” The atmosphere at that DC conference was thick with disappointment over the fact that Congress had recently failed to pass the DREAM Act, legislation that would have enabled illegal aliens who first came to the U.S. as minors to access federal and state financial aid for their post-secondary education; to attend college at the reduced tuition rates normally reserved for in-state legal residents; and to earn conditional permanent residency and a path to citizenship.
Out of the 2008 conference, UWD was born. Its founding mission was to promote “the elimination of barriers to higher education for immigrant youth” by working to persuade the American public and legislators to embrace the DREAM Act as enlightened policy rooted in “principles of social inclusion and justice.” Moreover, NILC committed to serve as fiscal sponsor for the nascent organization.
In 2013, UWD expanded its platform to deal not only with issues involving “the families and communities of DREAMers,” but also to “win a roadmap to citizenship and fair treatment for all 11 million undocumented Americans.” “Individuals should not be excluded from citizenship for minor crimes,” UWD added, “including those related to undocumented status, such as driving without a license. The immigrant community has been subject to racial profiling and unequal justice and all individuals deserve a second chance.” Calling also for an “end [to] senseless deportations and abuses,” UWD emphasized that any fees which might be part of a legalization initiative should be “affordable” rather than punitive.
UWD's major projects today include the following:
* Deferred Action: Striving to help “young people whose lives are directly impacted by unjust immigration laws,” UWD boasts that in 2012 it “successfully pressured” President Barack Obama to implement a “deferred action policy” to “provid[e] protection from deportation and work permits for young people without papers.” This was a reference to an Obama executive order enacting a “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) policy to not only stop the deportation of some two to three million illegal immigrants who had first come to the U.S. as minors, but to also make them eligible for legal residency and work permits.
* The DREAM Educational Empowerment Program (DEEP): Designed to address “the barriers that undocumented immigrant youth face as they pursue higher education,” this initiative develops and distributes educational materials, holds webinars, and establishes DEEP/DREAM centers throughout the United States “to make sure every DACA-eligible DREAMer can obtain a GED or otherwise meet the educational requirements of the deferred action policy.”
* The Education Not Deportation Project was started in 2010 to “stop the deportation of DREAMers and their families by highlighting their stories and galvanizing support from the community.”
* The Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project aims to “empower queer undocumented youth” by providing them with leadership-development training, establishing “spaces for healing and support,” and creating a curriculum to “educate our communities about the intersection between the immigrant and LGBTQ rights movements.”
Other UWD priorities are enumerated in the organization's Platform for Change and Principles for Reform, both of which call for illegal immigrants to be granted a host of rights and protections that are deemed “necessary to live life and prosper in the United States.” Foremost among these are the right to a driver’s license, to a professional or commercial license, to a passport (so as to be able “to visit family in other countries”), to health care, to “safe [and] fair” working conditions, and to “equal protection under the law.” UWD also demands “an end to excessive and costly immigration enforcement policies which separate families and divide communities, such as 'Secure Communities,' E-Verify, 287G, and roadside checkpoints.”
On June 27, 2014, UWD protesters sang We Shall Overcome as they picketed outside the offices of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida), while demanding that Congress pressure President Barack Obama to expand the DACA program.
Issa, who had recently begun circulating a letter asking fellow Members of Congress to support the termination of DACA, was the first target of the UWD protesters. One of the organizers shouted, "Republicans ... are not on our side.... We’re here to tell Representative Issa that he can send whatever letters he wants. He can say all these hateful comments ... but we are here to fight."
Then, in front of Boehner’s office, the demonstrators unfurled a wall-sized “lawsuit” against the House Speaker.
Finally, they pushed Wasserman-Schultz to take a stronger stance on the immigration issue as well.
On November 1, 2015, some 50 to 100 UWD protesters staged a rally in Harris County, Texas, demanding an end to the detention and deportation of criminal illegal aliens—on grounds that detentions and deportations would cause family members to be separated from one another. The demonstrators marched through the streets chanting “Undocumented, Unafraid,” and “Up, Up with Liberation. Down, Down, with Deportation.” At various points, they staged “die-ins”—including one instance where they illegally blocked a street. At the end of the protest, the demonstrators danced in front of deputies at a jail facility while shouting “I believe that we will win.”