Last week, we at SocRogueScholars attended an all-day conference called Challenging Borders: Centering Undocumented Student Voices in Higher Education. Accompanying us was one of our very own contributors, Mayra Turchiano. The conference was held at the University of California Riverside, in the city of Riverside, California.
Challenging Borders had scholars, students, and the local community coming together to discuss the issues facing undocumented students as they navigate higher education. Special focus was given to examining the effects of recent U.S. immigration policies such as the California DREAM Act and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on these students. Several researchers presented their recent and current academic work on these issues, and we wanted to share some of the major themes addressed at the conference.
One core theme they explored was activism among undocumented students. While the passing of DACA and the DREAM Act were the result of political officials, the movement to raise awareness of their need came from the efforts of undocumented student activists and their allies. Yet this activism largely goes unrecognized, much to the hardships carried by the students themselves, who are fighting for their educational rights even as they navigate the stresses and expectations of higher education. Worse still for them is the constant struggle to balance their personal responsibilities at work (with many of them working full-time) and at home with their families.
Another theme brought up concerned the complicated impact of legislation like DACA and the DREAM Act has had on the undocumented. Of particular concern was the lack of information being reached out to students and their families about their eligibility and rights under these legislative acts. As many of the researchers explained, the schools and other government agencies often neglect to inform students and parents, who instead discovered these resources by chance or by doing their homework on how to navigate higher education. For those who do apply for these legal statuses, students are offered protection so that they might pursue a quality education as well as advance their career pathways and upward mobility. Yet these legislative acts are far from perfect as they deny this protection to undocumented youth who are ineligible due to criminal records, homelessness, etc. Factors that many are particularly left vulnerable to as a result of their undocumented status.
During the Q&A session after the presentations, one of the issues addressed had been the overall focus on Latina/o undocumented and the subsequent lack of attention paid to non-Latina/o immigrants. This was a certainly interesting question and generated an equally interesting conclusion regarding the nature of academic scholarship. One of the presenters answered that it was due to the complicated relationships between scholars and advocacy organizations. With the political climate currently zeroed in on addressing Latina/o immigration policy, it works in the interest of Latina/o-based organizations to collaborate with academics to raise awareness on these issues. Yet otherwise scholars offer very little in the way of a direct tangible benefit to populations under study, making it more difficult to convince non-Latina/o advocacy organizations to trust the research will help their cause.
The research being done on these topics highlights the benefits undocumented students are finding through DACA and the DREAM Act. It has given them independence as well as the opportunity to travel and participate in conferences and social activism. They also found the liberty to do things that most people who are documented take for granted as everyday freedoms, such as obtaining car insurance, returning items at the store, and getting money for recycling items. More importantly, it has given them the knowledge to help other students by sharing the knowledge they learned and become mentors and inspirations to students who may feel that there is no hope for them in higher education.
The work being done through research, activism, and support from universities has made it possible for undocumented students to succeed, but there is still work to be done. Yet these conferences continue to inform others, and through future effort and collaborations, more awareness of their struggles can be raised to the public.
We would like to thank all the participating researchers at the conference including:
Laura Emiko Soltis – Freedom University, Georgia
Susana Munoz – Colorado State University
Edwin Elias – University of California, Riverside
Tom K. Wong – University of California, San Diego
Leisy Abrego – University of California, Los Angeles
Jennifer Najera – University of California, Riverside
Genevieve Negron-Gonzales – University of San Francisco
William Perez – Claremont Graduate University
Finally, a special shout out to Marisol Clark-Ibanez representing our alma mater, California State University, San Marcos, as one of the presenters at the conference with her work on the educational pipeline for undocumented students.
One of the great benefits of conferencing is that we sometimes get the chance to enjoy the local city culture where the event is being held. Take a look at some of the different sights and places we experienced in Riverside, CA.