1st Edition

We ARE Americans Undocumented Students Pursuing the American Dream

Edited By William Perez Copyright 2009
    200 Pages
    by Routledge

    200 Pages
    by Routledge

    Winner of the CEP Mildred Garcia Award for Exemplary ScholarshipAbout 2.4 million children and young adults under 24 years of age are undocumented. Brought by their parents to the US as minors—many before they had reached their teens—they account for about one-sixth of the total undocumented population. Illegal through no fault of their own, some 65,000 undocumented students graduate from the nation's high schools each year. They cannot get a legal job, and face enormous barriers trying to enter college to better themselves—and yet America is the only country they know and, for many, English is the only language they speak. What future do they have? Why are we not capitalizing, as a nation, on this pool of talent that has so much to contribute? What should we be doing?Through the inspiring stories of 16 students—from seniors in high school to graduate students—William Perez gives voice to the estimated 2.4 million undocumented students in the United States, and draws attention to their plight. These stories reveal how—despite financial hardship, the unpredictability of living with the daily threat of deportation, restrictions of all sorts, and often in the face of discrimination by their teachers—so many are not just persisting in the American educational system, but achieving academically, and moreover often participating in service to their local communities. Perez reveals what drives these young people, and the visions they have for contributing to the country they call home.Through these stories, this book draws attention to these students’ predicament, to stimulate the debate about putting right a wrong not of their making, and to motivate more people to call for legislation, like the stalled Dream Act, that would offer undocumented students who participate in the economy and civil life a path to citizenship. Perez goes beyond this to discuss the social and policy issues of immigration reform. He dispels myths about illegal immigrants’ supposed drain on state and federal resources, providing authoritative evidence to the contrary. He cogently makes the case—on economic, social, and constitutional and moral grounds—for more flexible policies towards undocumented immigrants. If today’s immigrants, like those of past generations, are a positive force for our society, how much truer is that where undocumented students are concerned?

    PART I. HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS 1. Penelope. “I know for a fact my success is because of my relentless determination”; 2. Jaime. “It’s almost like I am tied down to the ground with a ball and chain because I don’t have citizenship”; 3. Jeronimo. “It’s like someone giving you a car, but not putting any gas in it”; 4. Lilia. “I want a chance to work in an office with air conditioning rather than in the fields under the hot sun”; PART II. COMMUNITY COLLEGE STUDENTS 5. Daniella. “I’ve always had a passion for community service”; 6. Isabel. “They say you can accomplish whatever you want or set your mind to, but they don’t say that it’s just for some”; 7. Lucila. “I don’t belong here because I don’t have my papers, so it’s kind of like I’m in limbo”; 8. Paulina. “I catch the bus at 5:15 a.m., I literally sleep with my clothes on”; PART III. UNIVERSITY STUDENTS 9. Angelica. “I think I will do something big, I just need a chance”; 10. Sasha. “You'll never get an ‘A’ in my class because you’re a dirty Mexican”; 11. Eduardo. “I’m restricted in joining clubs, participating in school events, taking on leadership roles…it’s a bit damaging in the long-run”; 12. Raul. “I am always limited in what I can do”; PART IV. COLLEGE GRADUATES 13. Lucia. “The biggest disappointment is knowing that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel”; 14. Michael. “It’s like a wound that never heals”; 15. Julieta. “Being undocumented is really depressing”; 16. Alba. “I know I want to be a high school math teacher, but I can’t”; PART V. DOCUMENTED COLLEGE GRADUATES 17. Jessica. “I wanted to be a public interest lawyer, the kind that helps the community”; 18. Julia. “I would really like to teach college students, be involved in the educational system”; 19. Ignacio. “I would probably be working as a truck driver…earning minimum wage”; 20. Nicole. “Working with the students who are the most underserved….That kind of work is very meaningful to me”


    William Perez is Professor of Education at Claremont Graduate University and an applied developmental psychologist. His research focuses on immigrant adolescent social development. Before joining CGU, he worked at various research institutes including the RAND Corporation, the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, and the Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research. Daniel G. Solorzano is Professor of Social Science & Comparative Education, and Director of UC/ACCORD, University of California, Los Angeles.

    “We Are Americans is a great and easy read which makes for a great contribution to the

    already existing conversation of humane and comprehensive immigration for all. Hopefully we steer this into a more humanitarian approach and less of a political punch line for points."

    Immigrant Magazine

    "This is a short introduction to undocumented students in the US. Perez records case histories from interviews with undocumented students, who continue to live a precarious future in a country that does not welcome them. These honest, heartrending biographical stories are the bulk of the book. Perez includes questions for discussion to facilitate group study and a brief three-page index. The introduction is informative and provides background on how these students come to live in the US without citizenship; changing demographics, including economic contributions of undocumented immigrants; use of public services; and crime statistics. Perez traces teh laws that have affected these students, from Plyer v Doe (1982) in Texas to the present. He includes statistics, e.g., "in California about 25,000 undocumented students graduate from high schools each year, yet fewer than 7,000 enroll in community colleges" and fewer still in the state university systems. He briefly gives information about statewide higher education access, in-state tuition legislation, and the DREAM Act that would extend conditional legal status to undocumented youth who meet several criteria. Perez concludes his introduction with rationales fro an immigration policy that is in the national self-interest. Summing Up: Recommended"


    "After reading We ARE Americans, I realized that keeping a young Latino group in a second-class citizen status may be the new manifest destiny. Hispanics living in the shadows ensure a population at the ready; ready to mow lawns, wash windows and work in resaurant kitchens. Perez stresses that passage of the DREAM Act would grant undocumented students equal access to scholarships and other forms of financial aid. In defense of those brought here by their parents, he says, 'It's time to do the right thing.' "

    Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

    "This book should encourage us to pass new legislation, like the DREAM Act, that would help not just these young people, but our entire nation."

    Fellowship Magazine

    "In-depth description and numerous quotes from Perez's interviews make this book a useful resource for students and scholars of immigration and education, as well as fr general readers looking for first-person stories of immigration."

    Library Journal

    "This fascinating look at the next generation of undocumented immigrants unpacks the complexities of the debate and puts unforgettable human faces to its subjects. Perez, a developmental psychologist and professor in Southern California, plumbs the stories of students living with the constant threat of deportation for an answer to the question, “What does it mean to be an American?” Raised in this country by parents who gained access illegally, the 16 high school, college and post-graduate students profiled here (standing in for 65,000 nationwide) have each embraced our language, culture and collective dream, but are denied pathways to success. Perez, who has worked at a variety of research institutions, including the RAND Corporation and the Standford Institute for Higher Education Research, makes a compelling argument for changing legislation on many fronts, including bottom line economics. Vitally, he argues, undocumented students are prevented from giving back to the communities that have raised them, thus limiting the country itself. No matter what one's position is on legalizing immigrants, this collection of inspiring, heartbreaking stories puts a number of unforgettable faces to the issue, making it impossible to defend any one side in easy terms or generalities. (Aug.)"

    Starred Web Pick of the Week

    Publishers Weekly

    “In the process of describing the lives of undocumented students in the United States who aspire to live the American dream of working hard and going to college, Perez makes the powerful case that our current caste system for persons living without legal status undermines core egalitarian American ideals and violates the essence of our constitution which brings all persons under its mantle."

    María Blanco, Executive Director, Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity

    "We ARE Americans begins by placing undocumented people at the center of the story and in a much-needed historical and contemporary context. Professor Perez provides the evidence to challenge the notion that undocumented people are drain on social services and makes the argument that they have contributed, and continue to contribute, significantly to our nation’s economic and social well-being. Starting with Penelope, a highly motivated and tenacious high school senior and ending with Nicole, a newly minted Ph.D., Professor Perez has crafted 20 compelling portraits of resilience and survival in a social and educational world that continuously places barriers in the path of these gifted and talented scholars."

    From the Foreword by Daniel Solorzano

    "Professor Perez paints a portrait of undocumented students that is as inspiring as it is tragic. We ARE Americans emphasizes the need to rethink current immigration policies to be more inclusive and welcome immigrants as equal citizens who contribute to making America great.”

    California State Senator Gilbert Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), author of the CA Dream Act

    “The stories of the undocumented students in this book represent the talented members of society that could potentially be lost if we don’t act soon; and force us to rethink our current immigration policies to be more inclusive and welcoming.”

    Dolores Huerta, Dolores Huerta Foundation, co-founder of United Farm Workers

    “The voices we hear through the pages of William Perez’s book are powerful and compelling; student voices that need to be at the center of our discussions on immigration and, more specifically, on the DREAM Act. We ARE Americans reinforces that education is the surest route to empowerment, and the need for all of us to be working together to ensure that students with so much talent and determination are given the opportunity to contribute fully to this country.”

    James Montoya, Vice President, The College Board