Harvard Educational Review
  1. Undocumented Immigrants and Higher Education

    Sí se puede

    Alejandra Rincón.

    New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2008. 296 pp. $75.00.

    Undocumented Immigrants and Higher Education is a recent contribution to The New Americans book series (edited by Steven J. Gold and Ruben G. Rumbaut)that depicts how immigration is changing the United States. Based on firsthand experience as an educator and advocate, Alejandra Rincón chronicles decades of work to increase college access for undocumented immigrants, linking the present movement to past civil rights struggles. In this thorough account, she proposes reframing the debate on the rights of undocumented immigrants from a lens focused on economics and assimilation to one that emphasizes the struggle for human dignity and equality. In doing so, she advances a framework that may help bridge the deep ideological divides permeating the immigration debate and advance educational policies that reduce inequality in our nation.

    In seven chapters, Rincón chronologically details the work and strategies of students, educators, policy makers, and other advocates that had culminated in the adoption of “in-state tuition” laws in nine states at the time of the book’s release in 2008. Seeking to expand college access, these in-state tuition laws allow all residents that graduate from the state’s high schools—including those who lack authorized immigration status—to pay the same instate public college tuition. Although a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, protected the right of students to a public primary and secondary education, regardless of their immigration status, current laws prohibit those without authorized status under federal immigration law from qualifying for these lower public college tuition rates or for government-based financial aid. The resulting financial barriers thus prevent most undocumented high school graduates from pursuing college.

    Throughout the book, Rincón provides a comprehensive overview of the arguments advanced by those on both sides of these measures. Proponents of in-state tuition laws laud the measures as sound educational policies that provide economic benefits to the state and reward the talent and hard work of students who have assimilated into American culture. Opponents contend that the laws reward illegal behavior and promote illegal immigration, framing students’ physical presence in the United States as criminal and the individuals as undeserving.

    Rincón finds the proponents’ economic- and assimilation-based arguments to be ultimately “self-defeating” because their opponents adopt these same frameworks. She proposes, instead, reframing the debate around the notions of basic human dignity and equality that formed the bedrock for arguments during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In the concluding chapter, Rincón outlines the similarities between current immigration efforts and those of past civil rights movements. For instance, she notes how the denial of instate tuition rates to undocumented students is similar to the systematic denial of access to equal opportunities characteristic of Jim Crow techniques, such as poll taxes and literacy tests—policies that sought to disenfranchise African Americans and Chicanos. She also highlights the similarities between the student-led immigration marches in 2006 and the youth-led movements that spearheaded the Chicano civil rights movement of the late 1960s and 1970s.

    Through this comparative strategy, Rincón presents a promising framework around equality and human dignity that, though captured in the contemporary immigrant-rights slogan “no human being is illegal,” has yet to dominate public policy debates in this area. Indeed, while extending in-state tuition rates to undocumented students is economically sound and fair to students who are in every other sense “American,” such economic efficiency and assimilation-based arguments will ultimately fall prey to the charged anti-immigrant language that seeks to dehumanize undocumented students. A focus on the humanity of each individual and the social inequality current policies promote may help placate such tactics. The key to this approach, however, may be in better illuminating the similarities between current efforts with those of past civil rights struggles. While Rincón’s historical account lays the foundation for this understanding, the reader could benefit from even more examples.

    Few issues in the public policy arena engender as much passionate debate and division as those surrounding immigration. The book’s subtitle, Sí se puede (“Yes, it can be done”), is a reference to the slogan that was commonly used during the 2006 immigration marches, which were in response to a proposed draconian immigration bill that would have criminalized the estimated 12 million
    undocumented immigrants in our nation. Rincón’s detailed documentation of the work on in-state tuition policies and her proposed reframing of the debate should help educators who are committed to furthering equality in our nation to respond Sí podemos—“Yes, we can.”
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    Sylvia Hurtado
    Editors’ Introduction
    Ángeles, Sacrificios, y Dios
    A Puerto Rican Woman’s Journey Through Higher Education
    Marisa Rivera
    Latina/o Undergraduate Students Mentoring Latina/o Elementary Students
    A Borderlands Analysis of Shifting Identities and First-Year Experiences
    Dolores Delgado Bernal, Enrique Alemán Jr., and Andrea Garavito
    Existentialism at Home, Determinism Abroad
    A Small-Town Mexican American Kid Goes Global
    Joe Robert González
    From the Bricks to the Hall
    Mellie Torres
    The Re-Education of a Pocha-Rican
    How Latina/o Studies Latinized Me
    Arelis Hernandez
    Sin Papeles y Rompiendo Barreras
    Latino Students and the Challenges of Persisting in College
    Frances Contreras
    Dimensions of the Transfer Choice Gap
    Experiences of Latina and Latino Students Who Navigated Transfer Pathways
    Estela Mara Bensimon and Alicia C. Dowd
    Critical Race Theory, Racial Microaggressions, and Campus Racial Climate for Latina/o Undergraduates
    Tara Yosso, William Smith, Miguel Ceja, and Daniel Solórzano
    Mexican American and Educated
    Marlen Vasquez
    Increasing Latino/a Representation in Math and Science
    An Insider’s Look
    Jarrad Aguirre
    Challenging Racist Nativist Framing
    Acknowledging the Community Cultural Wealth of Undocumented Chicana College Students to Reframe the Immigration Debate
    Lindsay Pérez Huber
    Results Not Typical
    One Latino Family’s Experiences in Higher Education
    Margarita Jimenez-Silva, Norma V. Jimenez Hernandez, Ruth Luevanos, Dulcemonica Jimenez, and Abel Jimenez Jr.
    Barriers to Success
    A Narrative of One Latina Student’s Struggles
    Jannell Robles
    The Xicana Sacred Space
    A Communal Circle of Compromiso for Educational Researchers
    Lourdes Diaz Soto, Claudia G. Cervantes-Soon, Elizabeth Villarreal, and Emmet E. Campos

    Book Notes

    Standing on the Outside Looking In
    edited by Mary F. Howard-Hamilton, Carla L. Morelon-Quainoo, Susan D. Johnson, Rachelle Winkle-Wagner, and Lilia Santiague.

    Undocumented Immigrants and Higher Education
    Alejandra Rincón.