Michael A. Olivas, "Perchance to DREAM: A Legal and Political History of the DREAM Act and DACA" (NYU Press, 2020)


Why did the DREAM Act (for the Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors) never pass Congress – even though it was popular with Republicans and Democrats? What does the political and legal history tell us about American federalism? How is the legal history of the DREAM ACT and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) tied to the legal bureaucracy of residence?

In Perchance to DREAM: A Legal and Political History of the DREAM Act and DACA (NYU Press, 2020), Michael A. Olivas marshals his experiences as both attorney and teacher to unpack the overlapping laws, politics, and politics of immigration – demonstrating how the financial aid laws, age of majority requirements, and rules for establishing domicile establish carrots and sticks that lead to inept and unjust immigration policy. The book provides a much needed legal and political history of the DREAM Act that spans over two decades from its introduction in Congress (2001) to the Trump Administration challenge of legality in the Supreme Court (2017). Olivas uses Plyler v. Doe (1982) as an entry point. A revision to Texas law in 1975 allowed the state to withhold funds from local school districts for educating the children of undocumented people. The Supreme Court ruled that the law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteen and recognized the right of undocumented to attend public schools. Olivas sees SCOTUS’s ruling as the beginning of immigration reform, particularly for undocumented people who came to the U.S. as children.

Twenty-First century immigration reform has included racist narratives, fearmongering, and misinformation. Perchance to DREAM pulls the lens back to reveal the many times that immigration reform has been less polarized and expose the lack of traction. Despite covering the law and wider institutional struggles, the book highlights the pain that individual DREAMers that have suffered. Towards the end of the book, Olivas highlights poems including Pedro Calderon de la Barca’s La Vida es sueño and Langston Hughes’s Harlem to capture the yearning and disappointments of the DREAMers. Yet Olivas insists “I do not approve. And I am not resigned” noting that the fight for immigration reform is far from over.

In the podcast, Olivas offers insights on the June 18, 2020 Supreme Court decision in. Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of California in which the Court ruled 5-4 to overturn. The Department of Homeland Security’s decision to end the DACA policy on narrow, procedural grounds.

Daniella Campos assisted with this podcast.

Susan Liebell is associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She is the author of Democracy, Intelligent Design, and Evolution: Science for Citizenship (Routledge, 2013) and, most recently, Retreat from the Rule of Law: Locke and the Perils of Stand Your Ground” in the Journal of Politics (August 2020).

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Susan Liebell

Susan Liebell is a Professor of Political Science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

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