United We Dream began in the mid-2000s, when key national advocacy groups, led by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), developed an informal coalition of organizers and advocates to promote equal access to educational opportunities for immigrant youth. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act brought this group together. The DREAM Act would provide a path to citizenship for immigrant youth brought to the U.S. as children.
In 2005, after years of student organizing for access to higher education and citizenship for immigrant youth, immigrant student groups started to emerge in states across the country. The New York State Youth Leadership Council, the Student Immigrant Movement in Massachusetts, the University Leadership Initiative in Austin, TX, and the California Dream Network, were the undocumented student organizations that started building a strong momentum for immigrant youth organizing in those states.
When the DREAM Act failed to get sixty votes in 2007, these networks and groups had to re-evaluate what direction to take. A group of DREAMers, organizers, and advocates came together to reflect on the DREAM Act campaign and talk about building a movement and organization that would not hinge on votes in Congress, but that was rooted in a commitment to build an immigrant youth movement that would work to not only pass the DREAM Act, but reshape and influence the broader movement for immigrant rights. That group determined that we needed to create a powerful organizing network that had its own resources, could set its own priorities, and produce results.
In December 2008, the groups of leaders convened a coalition meeting in Washington, D.C. with the help of NILC. The participants, a dynamic and overwhelmingly diverse group of immigrant youth leaders, met to discuss future advocacy efforts to ensure that immigrant youth obtain access to legal status and higher education. There was a shared vision by key youth leadership that a national structure should be created that was led by young people whose lives are directly impacted by unjust immigration laws and United We Dream was formed. NILC committed to serve as fiscal sponsor and help the incubation of UWD.
United We Dream held its first convening in Minnesota in 2009, the first UWD National Congress with just 40 participants. Members of the UWD network then met in Lexington, KY in 2010, in Memphis, TN in 2011, and in Kansas City, MO in 2012, with 600 DREAMers and allies. Today, UWD is the largest immigrant youth-led network in the nation, composed of 55 affiliates in 26 states.
United We Dream, which has fought for access to higher education and legal status for undocumented immigrant youth, expanded its platform for change in 2013 and beyond to include the families and communities of DREAMers, fighting for a roadmap to citizenship for 11 million undocumented Americans and fair treatment for all.
When House Republicans stalled on immigration reform in 2013, United We Dream turned its attention to President Obama. More than 500 Dreamers came together in Phoenix, AZ in February 2014 for United We Dream’s Congress, and called on the President to provide deportation relief to millions in the community, including parents of Dreamers, and thus the We Can’t Wait campaign was created. See UWD’s We Can’t Wait campaign in action.
Youth organizing for access to deportation relief and higher education has provided a stepping stone for immigrant youth to become politically active, to gain exposure to different streams of social justice work, and to share responsibility for building a movement based on principles of social inclusion and justice.