A collection of theater artists, educators and activists called the Dream Act Union presented “Dream Acts,” a play portraying the plight of undocumented immigrant students in the United States, at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday.
In their portrayal of common yet often unrecognized struggles faced by paperless students, the Dream Act Union cleverly uses theater as a vehicle for activism.
The Union’s goal is to help pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, legislation that would offer undocumented students a path to citizenship.
Although fictional, “Dream Acts” gives the audience an insight into the lives of those who would be most affected by the Dream Act. One story is about a 15-year-old Nigerian girl escaping an arranged marriage, arriving in the United States only to be sexually abused by her father, while another story focuses on a 16-year-old Ukrainian immigrant who learns her green card is fake.
“I explore the elusive nature of the American Dream. How wonderful it can be. How easy it can turn into a nightmare,” said Saviana Stanescu, one of the many playwrights for the piece.
The play was written by the six female playwrights who make up the union, and was directed by Gallatin assistant clinical professor of theater Kristen Horton.
The playwrights, all immigrants to the United States from a range of backgrounds, decided that their contribution to the Dream Act would be the encouragement of public conversations surrounding the issue. Litwak explained that their goal was simply to write a play that would help pass the Dream Act.
“Theater can influence policy,” said playwright Jessica Litwak.
The most recent version of the Dream Act would offer undocumented students who entered the country at age 15 or younger conditional permanent resident status. This would mean that if a student maintained good moral character and attended school, they could be granted six years of legal resident status that would be made permanent if such behavior continued. However, for most undocumented students, college can often seem unattainable.
Immigration lawyer Dan Berger commented on President Obama’s program of deferred action, which executes prosecutorial discretion in giving well-behaved undocumented students low-priority status in terms of detainment and deportation. Berger explained that this is as much as Obama could do without the support of Congress, and that the prrogram has been successful in giving work cards to 300,000 undocumented students.
“We haven’t seen any broad immigration laws passed since 9/11,” Berger said, emphasizing the fact that Obama’s reforms were stop-gap solutions.
“Education should be universal,” said Alejandra Rincon, author of “Undocumented Immigrants and Higher Education.” She also stressed that the only way to get the Dream Act passed was the mobilization of immigrants themselves.
Playwright and panel moderator Stanescu said that the current iteration of “Dream Acts,” is only a starting point for the movement in spreading awareness for the Dream Act. In the future, they hope to expand the performance into a workshop with audience participation.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March. 11 print edition. Caroline Shaps is a contributing writer. Email her at email@example.com.
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