Educational Policy Contradictions

A LatCrit Perspective on Undocumented Latino Students

Authored by: Nereida Oliva , Judith C. Pérez , Laurence Parker

Handbook of Critical Race Theory in Education

Print publication date:  March  2013
Online publication date:  September  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415899956
eBook ISBN: 9780203155721
Adobe ISBN: 9781136581410


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Undocumented individuals living in the United States have found themselves excluded from many opportunities including a post-secondary education (Perez Huber & Malagon, 2007). While the exact number of undocumented individuals is unknown, it is estimated that there are 1.7 million undocumented immigrants under the age of 18 living in the United States (Annand, 2008, p. 685). Of those, an estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from public high schools each year (Gonzales, 2009) with a diploma and the hope that they too can have the same equitable access to higher education as their K-12 classmates. The undocumented immigrant population is composed of many nationalities and ethnic groups; however, the most contested policy debates have been around the status of undocumented immigrants from Mexico and other Central American countries. Broadly speaking, they are considered undocumented Latinos, and the U.S. public policy debate has voiced two polarizing and contradictory opinions about this group. On the one hand, they are viewed as hard-working, willing to take on labor intensive jobs (e.g., construction, farm work, food and hospitality service work), upholding strong Christian religious values centered on family, and valuing education; on the other hand, they have been portrayed as criminals, lazy, and unwilling to learn English or become American citizens, with high birthrates that threaten to change the U.S. population, who will drain public services and therefore should face deportation (Aleman & Aleman, 2012; Dávila, 2008). We can see evidence of this contradiction in President Obama’s executive order to grant partial rights to undocumented students who have been in the U.S. for at least five years and have no criminal record (Love, 2012). Yet some states continue to limit the experiences of undocumented students as they face state legal barriers to citizenship through threats of arrest by local and state police, bans on educational opportunities at the K-12 and post-secondary levels, and denials of access to health and social services (Filindra et al., 2011).

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