Sin País

PBS Premiere: Aug. 9, 2012Check the broadcast schedule »

In Context

In Sin País, Helen travels to Guatemala for Christmas to visit her parents and extended family, but her Guatemala-born brother Gilbert is unable to go along because as an undocumented immigrant he cannot freely travel between Guatemala and the United States. A bill called the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act that first surfaced in 2001 addresses the situations of undocumented young people like Gilbert.

The DREAM Act is a response to the condition of approximately 2.1 million undocumented children and young adults in the United States today. Sometimes referred to as the 1.5 generation, these young people were brought to the United States by their parents at a young age and are growing up in a society in which they do not have legal access to many rights of citizenship.

Although many undocumented students, like Gilbert, achieve in school and have high hopes for their futures, they do not qualify for federal grants or loans for college and have to get loans from private banks or work to pay tuition. An inability to afford high college costs causes high school drop-out rates among undocumented students to be high, and college attendance rates to be low.

The DREAM Act was introduced in Congress in 2001. The bill proposes a system through which undocumented students with high school diplomas or GEDs would be able to achieve permanent residency either by serving in the armed services or by attending college in good standing for two years. The bill has not become law and has been revised and submitted to Congress in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011. Some states, such as California and Illinois, have independently permitted undocumented students to attend universities and qualify for in-state tuition.

In June 2012, President Obama issued an executive order that will temporarily stop deportation of young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children. During this period of "deferred action" from deportation, these young people will be eligible to apply for documentation that would allow them to work in the United States. While this would not provide the opportunity to obtain citizenship or permanent residency as the DREAM Act would, it has raised the hopes of many young undocumented immigrants.

Caption: Gilbert and Helen call their parents in Guatemala
Credit: Photo still from Sin País

» CNN. "GOP Version of Dream Act Holds Promise."
» Dream Act 2011.
» Fox News. "Re. Lamar Smith on DREAM Act: Democrats Are Dreaming."
» Immigration Policy Center. "The DREAM Act."
» Loria, Kevin. "DREAM Act Stalled, Obama Halts Deportations for Young Illegal Immigrants." The Christian Science Monitor, June 15, 2012.
» Migration Policy Institute.
» The New York Times. "Dream Act for New York."
» The White House Blog. "Get the Facts on the DREAM Act."