Identity, Social Activism, and the Pursuit of Higher Education

The Journey Stories of Undocumented and Unafraid Community Activists

by Susana M. Muñoz (Author)
©2015 Textbook XVIII, 142 Pages


The topic of immigration has become increasingly volatile in U.S. society, and undocumented college students play a central role in mobilizing and politicizing a critical mass of activists to push forth a pro-immigration agenda, in particular the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. The DREAM Act is the only federal legislation that would grant conditional citizenship and some financial aid assistance to undocumented students who have completed two years of college or enlist in military service. Since the DREAM Act failed to pass, undocumented students have moved from peaceful marches to acts of civil disobedience, seeking to disrupt the public discourse that positions undocumented students as living in the shadows of our system. Undocumented college students have created public forums in which they «come out» from these invisible images and pronounce themselves as «undocumented and unafraid».

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Dedication
  • Foreword, Stella M. Flores
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter One
  • Introduction
  • Chapter Two
  • Undocumented Journey–Stories of Migration, Family, and Schooling: Participant Profiles
  • Chapter Three
  • College Access and Experiences in Higher Education for Undocumented Students … “Why did they recruit us, if they aren’t going to support us?”
  • Chapter Four
  • Unpacking the “Staying In” and “Coming Out” Process … “Yeah, it’s kind of funny because every time I tell someone I don’t have papers, they’re like, ‘No way, are you serious?’”
  • Chapter Five
  • Social Activism and Defining “Undocumented and Unafraid” … “After years of feeling powerless, feeling ashamed, and feeling afraid and to see people who have that courage and conviction to do something”
  • Chapter Six
  • Cultivating Undocumented and Unafraid as a Form of Resistance to Legal Violence … “We fight, sometimes, for single issues, but as human beings we aren’t single issues”
  • Chapter Seven
  • From Undocumented to Becoming DACAmented … “I licked my card and it tastes like plastic, it doesn’t taste like freedom”
  • Chapter Eight
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Series index


Este libro es para los activistas indocumentados que se encuentran en toda la nación, quienes inspiran, actúan buscando el cambio y comprometerse a luchar contra las injusticias detrás del sistema inmigratorio. Sus voces son necesarias, importantes y muy valiosas.

For the undocumented immigration activists in this book and across the nation, who inspire, agitate, infiltrate, and interrogate the injustices of our immigration system. Your voices are needed, important, and valued.

For Julisa and Mirely. ← vii | viii →



In January 2015, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) released its list of top ten higher education state policy issues for the year (AASCU, 2015). The issue of undocumented student college access—the provision and retraction of in-state resident tuition policies, or state DREAM Acts—ranked fifth on that list. Currently, 18 states and multiple private institutions now offer in-state tuition resident policies while 6 states actively prohibit either the tuition break or ban enrollment for undocumented students at public colleges and universities. While the progress for educational equity has been slow, the mere recognition of the educational trajectories of undocumented students represents a remarkable sign of public notice on this issue as it has now penetrated the most critical policy venues for higher education in the United States. President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the most recent Executive Action proposals have provided a national spotlight for the state DREAM Act ← ix | x → policies at a level not previously seen by the current generation. The central question for these state and federal policy initiatives is whether these opportunities will be sustained and how these policy changes in legal status affect students and their families.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that 1.75 million unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, meet the DACA specific criteria allowing them to be eligible for deportation relief under this initiative (Batalova & Mittelstadt, 2012). Approximately 72 percent of this potentially eligible group is currently high school age or above, with another 28 percent reaching this age soon. The states with the highest proportion of likely DACA-eligible students are California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois, states that all have a form of a state DREAM Act. The five states with the next largest estimated number of DACA-eligible students are Arizona, New Jersey, Georgia, North Carolina, and Colorado, most of which have formal bans prohibiting the enrollment of or granting of in-state tuition to undocumented students with the exception of New Jersey and Colorado.

In the interim, dozens of scholars have produced research from various disciplines using multiple methods to investigate the status of undocumented students seeking to attend college. The policy analysis research to date is remarkably clear on one outcome—students likely to be undocumented and Latino who live in states with a state DREAM Act are more likely to enter college than similar students in states without this policy (Flores, 2010a, 2010b; Kaushal, 2008). Flores and Horn (2009) found that state DREAM Act beneficiaries are as likely to persist in college through to completion at a selective public institution as compared to similar students who are U.S. citizens. Still, states continue to legislate bans barring higher education opportunities for these students or in some cases rescind the state DREAM Acts altogether (e.g., Wisconsin). By the time this book goes to press, the Texas state DREAM Act may no longer be in existence.

In the midst of policy wins and loses, however, the student story is often lost in policy analysis literature. Professor Susana Muñoz provides an exquisite and rigorous portrait detailing a more profound ← x | xi → understanding of how undocumented individuals make meaning of their legal status within the contexts of higher education and social activism. The state DREAM Acts did not legislate themselves out of boredom or sheer good will. Activism, sacrifice, community mobilization, and the act of “outing” oneself were actions at the forefront of the last decade. Undocumented student activism has been on the rise, and the stories of these actions will finally be thoroughly explicated with this book.

Muñoz’s work poignantly uses student voices to offer a compelling argument for making the topic of immigration a civil rights issue. An outcome of this book is that it challenges the current public discourse painting undocumented students solely in terms emphasizing their “life in the shadows,” but instead examines the various methods that undocumented students use to access and succeed in higher education, despite not having legal status and without access to federal and state financial aid.

Identity, Social Activism, and the Pursuit of Higher Education: The Journey-stories of Undocumented and Unafraid Community Activists focuses on the process through which undocumented college students grapple to find meaning with their identities, with college persistence, and in their lived experiences under the curtain of anti-immigration legislation. Employing Chicana feminist scholarship and critical methodologies, Professor Muñoz weaves student narratives with complexity; examining how undocumented students make meaning and intellectualize their legal status and their roles as social activists. The narratives in this book are raw and inspirational. She offers rich texture and critical perspectives to the process of disclosing one’s legal status and introduces the concept of critical legal consciousness; an awareness that these social activists use to gain new knowledge about their legality. Professor Muñoz challenges scholars, policymakers, and higher education practitioners to take more inclusive approaches to the intersections of difference and of identity that are intertwined in undocumented students’ legal status as well as other salient social identities. The narratives shared in this book offer insights into how critical legal consciousness can be used as a tool to critique policies that directly affect undocumented students, such as the DACA policy. ← xi | xii →

This book is an enriching exploration of identity and persistence and heartbreak. It is also a book about a scholar’s earnest commitment to reshaping the public discourse on undocumented students by sharing her heartfelt authenticity and vulnerability as a scholar. There are few opportunities within critical scholarship to delve deeply into a researcher’s background and personal plight in order to not only shed light on one of the most controversial topics of our time but also to understand how background and experience influence one’s relationship with the research. This book invites us to reimagine the ways in which our colleges and universities can demonstrate inclusivity, equity, and justice but also to identify when policy and practices can harm and further silence the voices of undocumented students. As a policy analyst, the work of Professor Muñoz strengthens the field of immigration and civil rights research. She completes the circle of experience and documentation with her empirical work as well as her own story. I encourage a reading of these case studies as they ground the work of all scholars of immigration and education and provide an understanding of a critical student experience in U.S. schools from kindergarten to college completion.

Stella M. Flores

Associate Professor of Public Policy and Higher Education

Vanderbilt University


XVIII, 142
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (December)
DREAM DREAM Act U.S. Society immigration college students
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XVII 142 pp.

Biographical notes

Susana M. Muñoz (Author)

Susana M. Muñoz is Assistant Professor of Higher Education in the School of Education at Colorado State University. She previously served as a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Her scholarly interests center on the experiences of underrepresented populations in higher education. Specifically, Dr. Muñoz focuses her research on issues of access, identity, and college persistence for undocumented Latina/o students, while employing perspectives such as Latino critical race theory, Chicana feminist epistemology, and college persistence theory to identify and deconstruct issues of power and inequities as experienced by these populations. She utilizes multiple research methods as mechanisms to examine these matters with the ultimate goal of informing immigration policy and higher education practices.


Title: Identity, Social Activism, and the Pursuit of Higher Education
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163 pages