Immigration policy is a challenging topic for grown-ups; imagine what it must be like to understand the complex web of laws and bureaucracy when you are an immigrant child.
Samar Shaukat, a 22-year-old recent college graduate, realized that this is acutely true in the case of undocumented children trying to under the DREAM Act. During her senior year at Rollins College, where she double majored in Anthropology & Latin/Caribbean studies , Shaukat worked at the HOPE CommUnity Center in Central Florida, a service learning community dedicated to improving the lives of immigrants. Being a first generation American whose parents immigrated from Pakistan made her care about immigration issues. Shaukat wanted to do something that could both “educate and entertain” the children.
She wrote “Juan’s Dream,” a story about a migrant butterfly that follows an immigrant family from Mexico to the United States that explains the DREAM Act in an easy and fun way. The butterfly, which is the unofficial symbol of the immigration reform movement, flies across the border with Juan, follows his journey through school, his father’s deportation, and eventually his acceptance to college. Shaukat wrote the story based on all the stories she witnessed working at the HOPE CommUnity Center. The illustrations were drawn by the undocumented children she was helping care for. Shaukat spoke to Fusion about her first experience as an author:
FUSION: Did the children you worked with know anything about immigration policy when you first met them? What was the most common misconception?
SHAUKAT: The community center has so many resources that the children know a lot more than you’d expect. I think the children understand how hard it is to become a citizen but they haven’t lost their hope for equal opportunity. A popular misconception is what the DREAM Act actually can do. Since it is a federal proposal the federal government would need to pass it first. There are multiple state level DREAM Acts which are the ones addressed as passed. DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a federal policy that does not give immigrants status as citizens, but it protects the youth from being deported and can help them in attaining a job. The fact that the children are so young and already know so much made me want to help them even more.
excerpt from Juan's Dream
FUSION: Is immigration reform important to you on a personal level? What is your family’s story?
SHAUKAT: The immigration process was a lot easier for me because both my parents were citizens by the time my brother and I were born. My dad came over after medical school on a work visa. My mom’s dad was the ambassador from Pakistan to Latin America, so she came over to the U.S. from Mexico on a student visa. I was always drawn to information about anywhere in Latin America because I saw it as a way to have a connection with my grandfather. Since I saw how it was not too difficult for my family members to get citizenship from a country so far away I was dismayed by the restrictions on a country we share a border with. As a young adult, I noticed all the opportunities my parents were able to give me here and think everybody should be able to experience them too. Everybody deserves a fair chance at his or her dreams.
excerpt from "Juan's Dream"
FUSION: What is the main message you wanted to communicate to these children? Why is it important for them to know this?
SHAUKAT: I want the children to know that there will always be people who are against immigration reform, but there will also always be people fighting for them. It is important for them to know this because fighting for what they believe in will only make them stronger than they already are. They deserve what they are fighting for as much as anybody else does. If they are here getting the same education from the school systems, there is no reason they shouldn’t be allowed to get a college education and to work here as well.
Shaukat is a Fulbright recipient and will be moving to Indonesia to teach English for a year. One of her long-term goals is to open an orphanage in Mexico.
Elisa is a designer & illustrator that writes (and doodles) about pop culture, women, diversity and all things art. She is the human behind Fusion's Instagram account and Elvis Presley is her spirit animal.