Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Rubén Donato

Second Advisor

Michele S. Moses

Third Advisor

Ryan E. Gildersleeve

Fourth Advisor

Kris D. Gutiérrez

Fifth Advisor

Daryl J. Maeda


This study focuses on the rise of one of the most publicized policies related to U.S. immigration: The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would create a path to legal residency for young undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Following the 1982 Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court decision, undocumented children gained the right to a free public K-12 education in the United States (Olivas, 2012b), but their immigration status and access to institutions of higher education were left largely unaddressed (López, 2004; Yates, 2004). In response to the uncertainty faced by thousands of undocumented students upon high school graduation in this country each year, the DREAM Act was first introduced to Congress in 2001 (Olivas, 2004). In this multi-method study, I examined the DREAM Act versions presented to Congress during President Barack Obama’s first term in office—a time when the DREAM Act was expected to pass for the first time since its inception in 2001. First, through a content analysis of DREAM Act policy documents, I explored how this policy was framed and how DREAMers were legally constructed (Johnson, 1996). Following this, I conducted a multimodal (Kress, 2011) critical discourse analysis (CDA; Luke, 1996; van Dijk, 2002, 2003) of national television news coverage of the DREAM Act of 2010, the version that came closest to passing, and highlighted the role news media played in communicating this policy issue. Considering Haas’s (2004) argument that news media play a large part in how education policy issues come to be understood by the public, I explored how framing (Hand, Penuel, & Gutiérrez, 2012) was used to portray the DREAM Act and DREAMers. My theoretical framework centers on understanding immigration in the United States as a racial issue (Pérez Huber, 2009) by using Omi and Winant’s (1994) theories of racial formation as well as Bonilla-Silva’s (2014) frames of color-blind racism.