New Immigration Book: “We Are Not Dreamers” co-edited by Leisy J. Abrego and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales

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We Are Not Dreamers: Undocumented Scholars Theorize Undocumented Life in the United States makes a critical and much-needed contribution to ongoing debates about immigration from the lens of emerging immigration scholars who identify as currently or formerly undocumented. The book is co-edited by leading immigration scholars Leisy J. Abrego (UCLA) and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales (USF) and it features the work of ten undocumented, DACAmented, or recently formerly undocumented students in California and their scholarly/personal engagement with the topic of illegality.

Here’s a brief overview of the book: “The widely recognized ‘Dreamer narrative’ celebrates the educational and economic achievements of undocumented youth to justify a path to citizenship. While a well-intentioned, strategic tactic to garner political support of undocumented youth, it has promoted the idea that access to citizenship and rights should be granted only to a select group of ‘deserving’ immigrants. The contributors to We Are Not Dreamers—themselves currently or formerly undocumented—poignantly counter the Dreamer narrative by grappling with the nuances of undocumented life in this country. Theorizing those excluded from the Dreamer category—academically struggling students, transgender activists, and queer undocumented parents—the contributors call for an expansive articulation of immigrant rights and justice that recognizes the full humanity of undocumented immigrants while granting full and unconditional rights. Illuminating how various institutions reproduce and benefit from exclusionary narratives, this volume articulates the dangers of the Dreamer narrative and envisions a different way forward.”

You can now read the book’s introduction for free and/or purchase a copy of the book directly from Duke University Press.

At My Undocumented Life, we had an opportunity to interview professors Leisy J. Abrego and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales to learn more about how the book came to fruition and its unique contributions to the growing field of illegality. We thank them for responding to our questions via e-mail. In the coming weeks, we are also excited to feature additional Q&A’s with some of the contributors of the collection.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about how this book project came together, including what motivated you to work as a collective on this effort?

A: We have both been mentoring undocumented students and writing in this field for many years.  We had chatted over the years, as colleagues and friends, about the challenges involved in doing this work. One recurring topic of conversation between us was how to support the many promising undocumented students who were producing excellent scholarship and theories but faced challenges in the writing process and in getting that work out into the world.  We shared a commitment to doing this in a way that is attentive to ethical and anti-racist practice; for us, doing the work to support undocumented students is a political and ethical act and must be seen as such.

In March of 2016, while catching up with each other at an academic conference, Leisy mentioned that she had been thinking about the idea of an edited volume that would bring together the work of undocumented scholars doing kick-ass theoretical and empirical work.  Genevieve responded with an enthusiastic “YES! Let’s do this!” and the project was born. The collection represents a chance to move from working individually with talented undocumented students, to producing a book to disseminate what we see as critical and cutting-edge work that has the potential to transform the field more broadly.

Q: In your conversations with undocumented scholars for this book (and over the years), what are some of the strategies or challenges you have noticed with regard to the writing process?

A: There are, of course, different experiences, but one common pattern is that to thrive, many undocumented students push aside the reality of their status. They have to ignore what’s happening politically to find the ground to steady themselves as students. So when they choose to write about topics relating to this status, they are suddenly forced to face those realities in a concentrated way on the page, in their analysis. This can be paralyzing. And it’s even harder when you take into account the structural barriers. For example, prior to the pandemic, undocumented students sometimes spent their days working long hours, or commuting long distances daily on inefficient public transportation. Some deal with the emotional weight of the consequences of immigration enforcement in their communities, or are left to pick up the pieces after the deportation of a loved one. They may be unable to focus due to financial worries or absent from school while searching for care options for ailing parents without health insurance. The structural inequalities created by immigration policies affect all aspects of their lives.

To support students as writers in and through these challenges, we committed to a process of writing mentorship that meant that the authors did not have to suffer through edits and revisions on their own. Writing is difficult! So we invested in them and their work from the beginning, working with them, as editors, through the inevitable difficulties that we all face when we are writing. This required an incredible amount of work on the authors’ part with many rounds of revisions.

Q: What do you hope readers will walk away with after reading the book?

From the beginning, we envisioned this as a transformative project because in supporting up-and-coming scholars to publish their work, we are also pushing the field in new directions. However, now that we’ve completed the project with the book in our hands, we can see that the outcome was more transformative than we initially imagined. We hope that readers will learn, like we did, from the authors in the book. A key takeaway is that undocumented life in the United States is diverse along various identities and experiences and that undocumented scholars are actively engaged in pushing back against the DREAMer narrative not only in concept but with and through their empirical and theoretical work. We are excited for readers to walk away from the book recognizing undocumented people as creators, theorists, authors, scholars and not just as objects of study. We hope that readers will not only seek out the work of undocumented scholars in the future, but also consider the ways that they can promote and support their scholarship. Finally, we hope to inspire continued conversations around positionality, research, writing, and public discourse that frame our experiences.

Q: Lastly, many of our readers are undocumented students who are hoping to apply to graduate school, as faculty members who not only study immigration but also actively support and mentor undocumented students, what are a few pieces of advice you would share with prospective undocumented grad students? 

A: (1) Ensure that you will have support (professional, financial, emotional) during the time you’re in the program. Graduate school is hard and requires much effort; do the best you can to make sure that you are surrounded by support.

(2) Talk to current graduate students in the programs you are interested in to find out which faculty are genuinely invested in you, your development, and your project. Sometimes students think they should work with the fanciest, most famous superstar faculty members — big names and fancy titles only mean so much when these are the faculty members you will look to for mentorship and guidance.

(3) Do work that is meaningful to you. Don’t get caught up in what you are told will be the most marketable or the topic that will get you the most praise. Undocumented scholars have the potential to transform many fields — do the work that you are called to do, and that connects to who you are, and never apologize for that.


Genevieve is Associate Professor in the School of Education at the University of San Francisco and also serves as affiliate faculty in the Migration Studies Program and is co-chair of the Working Group to Support Undocumented Students. Her work focuses on political activism among undocumented youth, children and families at the US-Mexico border, and California racial politics and Latina/o/x immigrant communities. Genevieve is also co-author of Encountering Poverty: Thinking & Acting in an Unequal World (UC Press, 2016).

Leisy is Professor of Chicana/o and Central American Studies at UCLA. Her research and teaching interests are in Central American migration, families, gender, and the intimate consequences of U.S. foreign and immigration policies. Her scholarship analyzing legal consciousness and legal violence explores the structures that produce inequality and the modes of resistance of different subsectors of Latina/o/x immigrants, including undocumented students. She is the author of Sacrificing Families: Navigating Laws, Labor, and Love Across Borders (Stanford University Press, 2014).


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