The Texas Dream Act
Someone Like Me, Julissa Arce writes that “House Bill 1403 was better than winning the lottery” (210). She goes even further, noting that, at the time, “it was proof God existed and He loved me” (210). Indeed, House Bill 1403 (HB-1403), also known as the Texas Dream Act, while perhaps falling short of proving God’s existence, was no ordinary bill. Passed in 2001, with bipartisan support, the bill led the way in giving all residents, irrespective of legal status, eligibility for in-state tuition at Texas public colleges and universities, making college accessible and affordable for undocumented students like Arce.
The Texas Dream Act remains intact today, although has endured sustained attacks — generally from conservative members of the Texas legislature — since its inception. Recently, for instance, Dan Patrick, campaigning for Lieutenant Governor in 2015, made repealing the law part of his platform. Other resistance has been less vocal, with Gov. Greg Abbott saying that he would not veto the law’s repeal, should the legislature pass such a motion. More recently, Abbott has remarked that the law is flawed. But on the ground, support for the law has remained strong, finding institutional backing in labor unions, religious groups, business associations, and universities. Even other Republicans, such as former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, have remained vocal in their support for HB-1403.
The law’s impact has not been limited to Texas, and has brought educational opportunity — and controversy — to many more than Arce. Since its passage, nearly 20 states have followed suit by enacting similar legislation. These laws and related ones, especially following the 2016 election of Donald Trump and his administration’s efforts to eliminate educational assistance for undocumented students, have found themselves again at the center of debate and division, both throughout the country and within the Republican Party. Recently, for instance, Arce herself appeared on Fox News to discuss and defend recent efforts in California to further expand educational access to undocumented students in defiance of federal policy, marking a conflict over states’ rights. While social conservatives tend to oppose the laws, immigration-friendly, fiscal conservatives tend to support them.
In spite of these conflicts, however, HB-1403 and laws like it continue to help immigrants such as Arce pursue their American Dream.
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ICE and the Migrant Condition
Someone Like Me, Arce learns that she is an “alien,” a title she emphatically rejects. “‘I am not an alien!’” Arce writes, speaking for her younger self (140). The word technically denotes someone who is a foreigner, but often marks them as an outsider, implying that they don’t belong. In a subsequent revelation about her legal status in America, she discusses the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), writing that the agency “was real, and scarier than any monster I could imagine” (142).
Nearly 19 years ago, the United States government moved rapidly to respond to the tragic terrorist attack of 9/11 that took 2,977 lives. In one of the many attempts to enforce national security, a new organization was created, known now as ICE. Civil and criminal authorities were granted to the agency in order to better protect the country, as well as to help guarantee overall public safety.
On March 1st, 2003, the department was created through the union of nearly all 22 different federal agencies. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, along with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the U.S. Customs Service, ultimately separated the enforcement agencies and spawned three new ones: the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Presently, ICE has two main areas of operational focus, which include Enforcement and Removal (ERO), along with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The department’s stated purpose is to prevent further terrorist attacks, human and drug trafficking, as well as to secure the U.S. borders.
Historically, the agency has met bipartisan support. Recognizing the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in 2013, President Barack Obama commended ICE’s work and the resilience of America. But the agency has also been the subject of mounting controversy and criticism. Following the election of President Donald Trump, in 2016, ICE has been mobilized to an unprecedented degree, and calls to abolish the agency permeate political discourse. Indeed, recently, the agency’s most prominent role has involved detaining undocumented persons, as well as directing immigration raids and heavily enforcing immigration laws.
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Telling Guerrero’s Story
Someone Like Me, Arce writes fondly of her childhood in Taxco, a town in the mountainous, southern Mexican state of Guerrero. In the first chapter, especially, Arce portrays Taxco as an ordinary town with ordinary problems, such as class divide and the related social dynamics, which she confronts most directly at her elementary school.
Arce and her parents migrated to America for its promise of economic and educational opportunity — not, as far as we can tell, to flee violence. Today, however, many are fleeing the Guerrero region for other, more dire reasons, as the state has become plagued by gang violence and the drug trade. But with these realities have also come unhelpful outside misperceptions.
Located to the south of Mexico City, Guerrero has historically been known for its mountains — and, as we learn in Arce’s memoir, their silver — as well as its Pacific beaches, longtime destinations for Mexico’s political and economic elites, and for foreign tourists. But the state’s reputation has, more recently, become tied to poppy production, the main ingredient in heroin, and related gang violence. In 2017, the U.S. State Department warned citizens to avoid travel to Guerrero, citing militia and cartel fighting endemic to the region.
Indeed, owing to failures among national authorities to address cartel violence, many local communities have taken matters into their own hands, forming local militias for self-defense. Others flee north to the border. Yet amid this turmoil, the coastal resorts recently marked a record year in Guerrero’s tourism industry. One family’s source of flight, in a dark irony, becomes another’s vacation.
Despite these deep and dangerous challenges, many Guerrero natives — and journalists, in particular — are working to combat the perceptions of the region that dominate in mainstream media, seeking to reinterpret Guerrero as a source of opportunity rather than drug violence and despair. Challenging the narrative of failure — or what local Guerrero journalists coin Periodismo transgresor (“transgressive journalism”) — these journalists seek to offer a balanced and more optimistic assessment of Guerrero, pointing to governmental and social successes and failures alike. One news website in particular, Amapola Periodismo, lies at the heart of this growing movement, approaching Guerrero’s real problems without sensationalizing them, and reporting with an eye toward hope.
The work, however, is not easy. As the Columbia Journalism Review has reported, journalists in Guerrero face unique — and often violent — challenges. With one of the highest murder rates in Mexico, journalists have not been exempt, often the targets of brutal murders because of their critical reporting. The story of Guerrero turns out to be a complicated one, and its more peaceful side, in places like Taxco and the coastal towns, is often forgotten amid reporting on the region’s violence.
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Caleb Owens & Estelle Ro, 2020