July 2018
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Cinthya Salazar, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, USA

During the last 8 years, as a former higher education administrator working with students of color and as a current doctoral student researching the college experiences of students without documentation, I have met and worked with several undocumented college students, who too often have shared that they felt lonely and uneasy in their middle schools and high schools because of their immigration status. Once in college, many of these students talked about feeling a sense of relief when speaking about their immigrant backgrounds, as well as their concerns and aspirations in relation to their documentation. These conversations commonly originated when students picked up on some language and terms I used, or some signs and handouts that I had in my office, such as a placard that said “I am an unafraid educator with and for undocumented students” and “know your rights” pamphlets from immigration advocacy organizations. Though many of the students that I have worked with have been able to open up about their immigration status and have been able to find a few support systems in college, they are not the majority and their experiences of inclusion are not the norm across U.S. colleges and universities.

Though all undocumented students have the right to a free K–12 public education since the landmark Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe (1982) was decided (Olivas, 1986), most are excluded from higher education because of restrictive admission rules and/or financial aid policies (Contreras, 2009; Gonzales, 2016; Muñoz, 2015). Therefore, it is critical that school teachers and leaders become knowledgeable about the distinct experiences of undocumented students and their families and feel equipped to successfully respond to their needs inside and outside the classroom setting. The book Teachers as Allies: Transformative Practices for Teaching DREAMers and Undocumented Students, edited by Shelley Wong, Elaisa Sánchez Gosnell, Anne Marie Foerster Luu, and Lori Dodson, meets this demand and provides the essential information that educators need to better support undocumented children and youth and to better serve immigrant families as they navigate the K–12 and higher education systems.

The book begins with an overview of U.S. federal policies impacting undocumented immigrant youth, such as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and a call to action that urges educators to become allies and advocates for undocumented students and immigrant communities. Throughout the different chapters, the authors argue that teachers have the responsibility to educate all students equally and that to achieve this goal educators must examine their own cultural lenses and engage in culturally responsive practices. Through real life scenarios and vignettes, the book points out the importance of recognizing the experiences teachers have with students from immigrant backgrounds as cultural dilemmas that may arise from a lack of awareness and understanding of immigrant communities, as well as from White-centered pedagogies that do not account for the unique needs and experiences of diverse students and families in the classroom.

Throughout the book, the authors offer distinct perspectives on a number of issues related to the education of undocumented and immigrant students, such as the impact of deportation policies and raids on classroom engagement, and the challenges students encounter at the intersections of their multiple marginalized identities (e.g., Black and undocumented, LGBTQ and undocumented). In addition, each chapter offers valuable instruments that educators will be able to adapt to their classroom settings, such as personal reflective forms, student success models, immigrant-centered curriculum materials, and tools to create inclusive and culturally responsive environments. Finally, the book also includes programmatic examples that were developed to enhance the educational pathways of undocumented students and a toolkit containing national resources that educators can use to expand their knowledge and advocacy.

As a current doctoral candidate conducting research with and for undocumented college students, I applaud the inclusion of immigrant student voices throughout the book. Many of the chapters not only presented student testimonies and stories, but were written by teachers in collaboration with their students. I found this approach to be particularly significant because the stories of undocumented immigrants are repeatedly appropriated and exploited in academia, so academics can use the authors’ approach to collaborations as an example as they engage in critical scholarship in the future. In addition, as a former higher education administrator, I wish I could have had access to this book to guide my practice as I worked with undocumented students to institutionalize support services for and with them on college campuses; in particular, the programmatic examples and resources provided in the book are very valuable, and I think that they would allow practitioners and educators to build a strong foundation for their immigrant advocacy work.

A piece that I found to be missing from the book is a critical discussion of the terminology and arguments typically used within the debates about undocumented and immigrant students. For example, the term DREAMers is often associated with undocumented students who have exemplary academic records, who aspire to a higher education, and who came to the United States. at a very young age and grew up as “Americans.” Moreover, the arguments commonly used in favor of the DREAM Act blame the parents of undocumented youth for bringing their children to the United States without documentation. These narratives are not only deceptive and limited, but they can be used to create hierarchies and tensions within immigrant communities and families. Throughout the book, the authors do not explicitly make these arguments, but they use terminology that is connected to them without engaging in a critical examination of the jargon. Similarly, as immigration issues continue to be at the center of U.S. politics and popular discourse, and policies are implemented (e.g., travel ban) or revoked (Temporary Protective Status, TPS), it is necessary to engage in dialogues that consider and include the experiences of immigrants who are in-between statuses or fall somewhere in the spectrum of documentation.

School teachers and leaders are in positions of great power, and they have the opportunity to positively and meaningfully influence the educational pathways of undocumented and immigrant students. Yet, sometimes, educators do not receive the training and education required to understand the experiences and to meet the needs of immigrant students and their families. The book Teachers as Allies: Transformative Practices for Teaching DREAMers and Undocumented Students allows K–12 and higher education practitioners to recognize the importance of serving undocumented and immigrant students equitably and to develop a knowledge base that will allow them to better fulfill their roles as educators. 

Teachers as Allies is the SRIS Book Club’s first selection. Online discussions will take place from mid-August through late September via Facebook. The editors will take part in at least two to three online discussions throughout the months of August and September. For more information, please check the SRIS Facebook page.


Contreras, F. (2009). Sin papeles y rompiendo barreras: Latino students and the challenges of persisting in college. Harvard Educational Review, 79(4), 610–631.

Gonzales, R. G. (2016). Lives in limbo: Undocumented and coming of age in America. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

Muñoz, S. M. (2015). Identity, social activism, and the pursuit of higher education: The journey of undocumented and unafraid community activists. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Olivas, M. (1986). Plyler v. Doe, Toll v. Moreno, and postsecondary admissions: Undocumented adults and 'enduring disability'.Journal of Law and Education, 15(1), 19–55.

Wong, S., Gosnell, E. S., Luu, A. M. F., & Dodson, L. (2017). Teachers as allies: Transformative practices for teaching DREAMers and undocumented students. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Cinthya Salazar is a PhD candidate in the Student Affairs concentration at the University of Maryland College Park, and has more than 8 years of professional experience in higher education. During the last 3 years, Cinthya has collaborated in several qualitative research projects that have examined the experiences of students and professionals of color in higher education. As a former undocumented student, Cinthya is committed to working with and for undocumented immigrants, and has engaged in several immigration advocacy efforts within and outside higher education contexts. Cinthya’s dissertation focuses on the persistence of undocumented college students in Virginia, and her broader research interests are centered in the college access and retention of minoritized student populations.

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