Faculty and Staff

The Price of a Dream

Lance Pauker
April 6, 2022
two individuals walking down a city street in Mexico

Dyson College Assistant Professor of Political Science Kiku Huckle, PhD, has devoted much of her academic career to exploring complex questions related to the intersection of culture, identity, and politics. Immigration and immigration policy has increasingly been a focus of her work.

“My colleague Katsuo Nishikawa Chavez and I were chatting about projects, commenting how a lot of the immigration research we see is very United States-centric. We’re very much concerned with who’s coming in, what is their impact here, how can they become citizens,” says Huckle.

“But that leaves out this huge area of immigration politics that we’re not addressing at all—what happens when people leave?” she asks.

Particularly, Huckle and Nishikawa Chavez wanted to give voice to the stories of DREAMers. A name derived from the proposed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, DREAMers refer to undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors—sometimes as infants or toddlers—who face risk of deportation because they were not born in the United States. Some DREAMers, in fact, don’t find out they are not American citizens until applying for a job or college.

“But that leaves out this huge area of immigration politics that we’re not addressing at all—what happens when people leave?” Huckle asks.

“I actually found out because our school was pushing to send out college applications, so they were like ‘oh, just have this information ready,’” said one interview subject from Huckle’s documentary, The Price of a Dream.“ But when I asked my mom about the information, she said ‘You don’t really have it. You weren’t born here.’”

“My life in the US was pretty normal,” he added, “except that I didn’t know I was an immigrant until it was time to apply for colleges.”

Because the DREAM Act is a legislative proposal—it hasn’t been approved by the Senate to become law—DREAMers are encouraged to apply for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a 2012 Executive order that enables DREAMers to work or study in the United States for a given period of time if they meet certain requirements. Yet, since one’s DACA status must continually be renewed (and its existence is constantly under threat) not all DREAMers opt for a life permanently in limbo—and instead return to the country they were born in, even if it is entirely unfamiliar culturally or linguistically.

“My life in the US was pretty normal,” he added, “except that I didn’t know I was an immigrant until it was time to apply for colleges.”

Huckle and her colleague were interested in shedding light on these stories—individuals who often identified themselves as American, but opted to leave once they became fully aware of their status and the uncertainties and obstacles it rendered. Thus, with a grant from the Migration Narrative Project (funded by the Henry Luce foundation) Huckle and Nishikawa Chavez were able to travel to Leon, Mexico, where they interviewed five DREAMers who decided to return to their birth country—ultimately concluding that building a life in Mexico as legal citizens was preferable to staying in the United States.

The interviewees—who grew up in different areas of the United States and had different life experiences in America—discussed the reasons for leaving. They discussed the lack of security in the United States, the sheer amount of jobs closed off to them, lack of benefits, and constant threat of deportation.

“In the states I was doing menial jobs, manual labor, my whole education was a waste. Here, I actually feel like my education is serving me something. I am somebody here, I have a career, I can upgrade…there’s opportunity here,” said one interviewee.

“Undocumented students cannot get in-state tuition. Even if I would’ve been accepted to a public university, they might’ve charged me for out of state tuition, which is about three times more,” noted another interview subject. “Even if I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, I wouldn’t’ve been able to work, because I didn’t have a Social Security Number.”

Yet, they also discussed the immense difficulties of leaving the country where they had long considered home—and contributed to in the same manner as any legal citizen.

“I don’t fully understand Mexico that well,” said another interviewee, “Yeah, I know I’m Mexican by birth, but that’s about it,” said one interviewee. “Getting used to the expressions, the way people speak, people are very quick to pick up you’re not from here.”

The uncertain status of these individuals can also make for some incredibly heart-wrenching stories. One interview subject was split from his family after being deported, missing his mom’s funeral and the birth of his son, who were in America. His partner, also a DREAMer, decided that she would return to Mexico with their newborn son, so they can raise the family together and continue to have a life together. Had she stayed in America, the mere prospect of seeing one another would have been incredibly difficult and risky.

“My mom’s buried (in the states) I’d like to go drop off some flowers, say hi,” he said. “I missed my mom’s funeral, I missed the birth of my son…those are things I can’t get back. You can’t get time back.”

The documentary explores poignant questions of identity and belonging—a common thread amongst the interviewees is that their status renders them in an “in-between” state, where they don’t feel like they belong entirely in either country. As Huckle notes, the power of individual stories can give a human element to the issue, and can perhaps help shape policy.

“These are really good people who are being treated unfairly,” said Huckle. “If we could reshape our understanding of ourselves and recognize that the way that we treat people makes our country better or worse, that will help us understand a better approach to immigration.”

We encourage you to watch The Price of a Dream, available for viewing below.

More from Pace


From having an entire season cancelled to vying for the NE-10 Conference title, Pace Women’s Basketball has been making the most of their return to action. Coach Carrie Seymour and team co-captain Lauren Schetter discuss this year’s success amidst unorthodox circumstances, and reflect on Coach Seymour’s major milestone of 500 career wins at Pace.

Pace Magazine

At the intersection of Pace’s strategic priorities and opportunities for outstanding academic growth comes the drive to move Pace forward. We're meeting the challenges facing higher education and putting our unique positioning and competitive advantages to work, strengthening our reputation as we move into the future.