Harvard Educational Review
  1. Fall 2015 Issue »

    Untangling Plyler’s Legacy

    Undocumented Students, Schools, and Citizenship

    ROBERTO G. GONZALES, LUISA L. HEREDIA, GENEVIEVE NEGRÓN-GONZALES
    In this article, Roberto G. Gonzales, Luisa L. Heredia, and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales present a nuanced assessment of how undocumented immigrant students in the United States experience the public educational system. Though the landmark 1982 Supreme Court ruling Plyler v. Doe has resulted in hundreds of thousands of undocumented children being educated in US K–12 schools, much of Plyler’s promise still eludes them. Drawing data from multiple studies conducted with undocumented youth in California, the authors argue that schools perform three critical social functions—as integrators, as constructors of citizenship, and as facilitators of public and community engagement—that shape the educational experiences and political and civic participation of undocumented immigrant youth. They suggest that while schools hold the potential to engender a sense of belonging and membership for undocumented immigrant students, they often fall short of this promise. The authors argue that constrained resources in school districts that serve large concentrations of students of color, school structures that sort and deprioritize students in lower academic tracks, and modes of civic education that do not allow undocumented students to participate equally in society or view themselves as equal members of the citizenry limit the potential for schools to create positive educational and civic experiences for undocumented youth. In addition to inequalities in the educational system, undocumented students’ immigration status constrains their interaction in each school function, limiting the realization of Plyler’s promise.

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    Roberto G. Gonzales is an assistant professor of Education at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. His research focuses on the factors that promote and impede the educational progress of immigrant and Latino students. Professor Gonzales is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the experiences of undocumented immigrant young people. Since 2002 he has carried out what is arguably the most comprehensive study of undocumented immigrant young adults in the United States. His book, Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America (University of California Press, forthcoming in 2015) is based on an in-depth study that followed 150 undocumented young adults in Los Angeles for twelve years. In addition, Professor Gonzales’ National UnDACAmented Research Project has collected data on nearly 2,700 undocumented young adults on their experiences following President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In addition to top scholarly journals, his work has been has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Wall Street Journal, La Opinion, TIME, and on CNN and NPR. Prior to his faculty position at Harvard, Professor Gonzales was on the faculty at the University of Chicago and at the University of Washington. He received his BA from Colorado College, an MA from the University of Chicago, and an MA and PhD in Sociology from the University of California, Irvine. His work is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the James Irvine Foundation.

    Luisa L. Heredia is the Joanne Woodward Chair in Public Policy at Sarah Lawrence College, where she studies racial and ethnic politics, with special interests in migration control regimes, social movements, inequalities in citizenship, and religion. Her current work compares the development of the United States’ and Spain’s enforcement regimes, constructions of racialized “illegal” bodies, and radical movements to dismantle the state’s migration control practices and technologies. Her first book project, Illegal Redemption, investigates the crucial yet contradictory role that the Catholic Church has played in challenging a growing and restrictive regime of immigration control in the United States in the contemporary period. She is the author of “From Prayer to Protest: The Immigrant Rights Movement and the Catholic Church,” a chapter in the edited volume Rallying for Immigrant Rights by Irene Bloemraad and Kim Voss (University of California Press, 2011).

    Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales is an assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of San Francisco, where she studies the political activism and meaning-making processes of undocumented young people. Her work, which has focused on the way undocumented young people are changing the political and legislative terrain around “illegality” and belonging in this country and the racialized experiences of Latino students in the educational system, has appeared in journals such as Latino Studies, Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, and The Journal of Latinos and Education. Genevieve has been working with, supporting, and researching undocumented youth for the past ten years as a student affairs professional, a researcher, and an activist. Her work seeks to bridge political economy, higher education, and immigration in order to highlight the ways in which migrant illegality is (re)produced through the racialized spaces of higher education within the context of neoliberalism.
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    Fall 2015 Issue

    Abstracts

    “Diles la verdad”
    Deportation Policies, Politicized Funds of Knowledge, and Schooling in Middle Childhood
    SARAH GALLO AND HOLLY LINK
    “My Student Was Apprehended by Immigration”
    A Civics Teacher’s Breach of Silence in a Mixed-Citizenship Classroom
    DAFNEY BLANCA DABACH
    The Art of Unlearning
    CLINT SMITH
    On the Grammar of Silence
    The Structure of My Undocumented Immigrant Writer’s Block
    ALBERTO LEDESMA
    Undocumented Undergraduates on College Campuses
    Understanding Their Challenges and Assets and What It Takes to Make an Undocufriendly Campus
    CAROLA SUÁREZ-OROZCO, DALAL KATSIAFICAS, OLIVIA BIRCHALL, CYNTHIA M. ALCANTAR, EDWIN HERNANDEZ, YULIANA GARCIA, MINAS MICHIKYAN, JANET CERDA, ROBERT T. TERANISHI
    UC Berkeley’s Undocumented Student Program
    Holistic Strategies for Undocumented Student Equitable Success Across Higher Education
    RUBEN ELIAS CANEDO SANCHEZ AND MENG L. SO
    Undocumented Status and Schooling for Newcomer Teens
    ELAINE C. ALLARD
    Editor's Review
    STEPHANY CUEVAS
    Afterword
    Imagined Futures
    ROBERTO G. GONZALES
    Foreword
    Human Rights for Undocumented Students and Their Families
    MARY C. WATERS
    Editors' Introduction
    Dissolving Boundaries: Understanding Undocumented Students’ Educational Experiences
    Untangling Plyler’s Legacy
    Undocumented Students, Schools, and Citizenship
    ROBERTO G. GONZALES, LUISA L. HEREDIA, GENEVIEVE NEGRÓN-GONZALES
    The Unlikelihood of Family
    A Photographic Essay on Transnational Experiences
    CRISTINA LLERENA NAVARRO

    Book Notes

    Everyday Illegal
    Joanna Dreby