Book review: “Youth Held at the Border” by Lisa Patel



In Youth Held at the Border: Immigration, Education, and the Politics of Inclusion (2012), Lisa Patel explores how immigrant youth are included in, and excluded from, various sectors of U.S. society, including education. Instead of the land of opportunity, immigrant youth often encounter myriad new borders long after their physical journey to the United States is over. The following is a review of, and key takeaways from, chapters 7-12.

Chapter 7: There’s a New Sheriff in Town p. 3
Chapter 8: You Must be this Tall to Ride p. 6
Chapter 9: The Devil You Know p. 9
Chapter 10: Measures of Adulthood p. 12
Chapter 11: Black Market, White Market p. 14
Chapter 12: Rethinking Contact Zones p. 17

In Chapter 7, the author discusses the importance of realizing the difference in immigrant narratives and realizing that even if there are similarities in immigrant and immigrant family experiences, there are still certain narratives that are more privileged than others. Additionally, there is a discussion of how the education system can further disadvantage undocumented youth. Chapter 8 focuses on narrative framing. Even amongst undocumented youth, certain stories and narratives are prioritized and privileged (for example, the idea of the ideal DREAMer with DREAM Act). Chapter 9 takes a closer look at the issues affecting immigrant youth and children of immigrants, in particular when it comes to the issue of college. For example, the realistic fear that filling out documentation or leaving a paper trail can lead to trouble, and therefore it is easier to not bother. In Chapter 10, Lisa Patel discusses that even if an undocumented youth is able to attain documented status, or even if someone is documented but has undocumented parents, there still are issues with filling out paperwork and forms for college. Furthermore, forms like FAFSA do not take into account different family models of dependency. Chapter 11 explores the ways in which our country’s imperialism and dominance effects the countries from which immigrants come. Patel (2012) emphasizes differences between immigrants that came from Europe to the current day immigration (mostly new economic orders in place because of the United States). Lastly, chapter 12 is a discussion of contact zones, in which undocumented youth come in contact with different types of privilege and power. Patel (2012) has started an internship program in order to allow these kids to enter these contact zones but also give them a space to discuss them critically and think about what idea of “success” is perpetuated in the United States.

Key Takeaways:

  • Teachers, counselors, and others working with immigrant youth, particularly those with undocumented family, or especially those undocumented themselves, should strive to understand the socioeconomic dynamics in their life to due citizenship status, race/ethnicity, nationality, class, gender in order to identify individual ways to help and create holistic support communities.
  • The danger of a “single story.”  If you met one immigrant, you met one immigrant.
  • Redefining what success and learning means in terms of different immigrant experiences.
  • It’s important to think about who is excluded and who is privileged (even within immigrants).
  • Knowing about immigrant and undocumented youth is a constant learning process for educators and people that work with these communities.
  • Immigration Reform is necessary, but not enough because it doesn’t address the issues that make people come here caused by the U.S.
  • Educators who work with these populations should be aware of contact zones, how they reinforce social orders, and ways to always challenge them.

Selected quotes:

“But while teachers are justified in wanting to protect their instructional time, students are not just students; they also need socioemotional support that isn’t about osmosis or acute angles” (63)

“At its most basic level the DREAM act still perpetuates a view of immigration where individuals are acting autonomously, either legally or illegally, and should be judged according to characteristics that they can individually contribute to the nation. Obscured is the fact that immigrants and native-born residents act within a larger set of internationally mediated forces of economics and politics, possibilities and limitations.” (71-72)

“Our idea was to gather the undocumented seniors together a few times during the year in order to create a safe space for them to voice their internalized frustrations and worries and plan for some steps after high school graduation. We invited a few of the well-known graduates from the past few years, all undocumented, to sit in on the meetings and share some of what had helped them to stay busy and engaged after high school ended” (76)

For many low-income immigrant families, the long-term promise of upward social mobility after years of college is in direct competition with more immediate needs of survival and safety. (81)

“This nation and others like it (in many European nations, anti-immigrant backlash resembles patterns in the United States) rely on undocumented immigrants to supply a labor force that is willing to work in low-income jobs with unsafe conditions (Silverstein, 2005). The state-sanctioned citizens of these nations are calcified in their lifestyles, unwilling to stop consuming cheap goods and resources” (95)

Gabriella is a native of Costa Mesa, California. Gaby attended Harvard University to pursue her passion of giving back to her community. As a Master of Divinity student, Gaby has used her knowledge and experience to help immigrant families remain united by translating for an immigration lawyer.

Nestor grew up in an immigrant, working-class family in Los Angeles, California. This ignited his passion to pursue justice, such as statewide organizing with undocumented students. Now he is at Harvard Divinity School and is working on his organization which builds community between students, campus workers (janitors, dining, etc) and their children through tutoring, mentoring, and community building meals, emphasizing that everyone learns from and with each other. After obtaining his Masters of Divinity he hopes to continue his calling and further coalitions between groups working for justice and learning more about how to effectively mobilize people.


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