Evelyn Nakano Glenn speaks on student immigration rights
Glenn spoke to the College last Monday on student citizenship status.
On Monday, March 26, the College welcomed Evelyn Nakano Glenn, a familiar face in the national realm of sociology and a professor of ethnic studies and gender and women’s studies at the University of California, Berkeley (U.C. Berkeley). She presented a talk entitled “No Papers In the Academy: Undocumented Immigrant Students and the Crisis of Citizenship.” This was one of the events that brought Immigrant Rights Month to a close.
Citizenship, a formal status that is defined by the government, had never been a topic in sociology, but Glenn was interested in the social process that established citizenship and therefore the ability to identify who is and who is not a citizen. Glenn started off by setting up the historical context for her research on immigration status for students pursuing higher education at public institutions at the local, state and national level. She defined citizenship as full membership within a community and said that this status comes with the civil, political and social rights that emerge out of this status.
However, this definition does not factor in the fluidity of citizenship, which was best illustrated by the fact that free black men could own property in the 19th century and that, prior to the 1930s census, Mexicans in Guadalupe Hidalgo were considered white. With the development of anti-immigrant sentiments that rose from immigration from the so-called “Global South,” de-facto segregation became rampant within the U.S. Glenn gave personal examples of how she, as an Asian American, was dropped off a mile away from her school and was treated differently by the white bus driver who practiced “insurgent citizenship,” taking matters into his own hands, feeling entitled because of his inherent status as a white male American.
She transitioned from this historical foundation into how citizenship and immigration status currently plays out in the access to higher education, her research subject and studies. In the 1982 case of Plyer v. Doe, the constitutions of all 50 states confirmed that they had an obligation to provide free education, which has been interpreted to mean access to education. However, the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly state that citizens have the right to education. She also pointed out the discrepancies among states in offering undocumented students in-state tuition. South Carolina denies any undocumented students access to public education while North Carolina bars access to community college.
Glenn told the story of a student she met at U.C. Berkeley whom she gave the alias name of David. David was admitted to U.C. Berkeley but couldn’t afford to attend. Even with the scholarship he earned, it was not sufficient for him to attend the school, leaving him no choice but to attend a community college in California until he could afford the tuition. He raised tuition money by tutoring, and he managed to earn one more year of higher education at U.C. Berkeley. When that tuition fund ran out, he managed to continue attending university classes but was unable to attain credit for them.
Unfortunately, Glenn noted that this is the situation of most undocumented immigrants. They do not find out about their immigration status until they are applying to universities and colleges. It does not end there. Even if an undocumented immigrant managed to graduate from an institution for higher education, the question of occupation after graduation still casts a shadow. According to Glenn, this is one of the many reasons why qualified immigrants do not consider pursuing higher education.
The difficulty of undocumented immigrants in attaining higher education has caused particular unrest among the high school and college students. Lee High School in Houston, Texas and Jovenes Immigrantes por un Futuro Mejor, also in Texas, have held campaigns that draw on International Human Rights social justice movements to allow for undocumented immigrants to reach their full potential. The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act, by Amnesty International has been a significant foundation to raise this issue and get it the due attention.
Glenn concluded, “On the margins of society is where change begins.” It is when society is agitated by what they deem unjust that they respond, and those immersed in mainstream society are comfortable with the status quo. Glenn left the audience with the question of how to view education: as a public good, or as a right?