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About William Perez
William Perez, an immigrant from El Salvador, is a professor in the School of Education at Loyola Marymount University. He received his BA in psychology from Pomona College and his Ph.D. in Child and Adolescent Development and Educational Psychology from Stanford University. His research focuses on the social and psychological processes associated with academic success and higher education access among immigrant, undocumented, indigenous, and deported students in the U.S. and Mexico. He has received awards for his scholarly work from the American Educational Research Association, the Association for the Study of Higher Education, the American Educational Studies Association, and the Fulbright Scholars program. He has been interviewed or quoted in various media outlets including NBC Nightly News, the LA Times, the Washington Post, PBS, and NPR. The impact of his scholarship has been recognized by Education Week’s annual ranking of the top university-based scholars in the U.S. who are doing the most to influence educational policy and practice.
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About 2.4 million children and young adults under 24 years of age are undocumented. Brought by their parents to the US as minors—many before they had reached their teens—they account for about one-sixth of the total undocumented population. Illegal through no fault of their own, some 65,000 undocumented students graduate from the nation's high schools each year. They cannot get a legal job, and face enormous barriers trying to enter college to better themselves—and yet America is the only country they know and, for many, English is the only language they speak.
What future do they have? Why are we not capitalizing, as a nation, on this pool of talent that has so much to contribute? What should we be doing?
Through the inspiring stories of 16 students—from seniors in high school to graduate students—William Perez gives voice to the estimated 2.4 million undocumented students in the United States, and draws attention to their plight. These stories reveal how—despite financial hardship, the unpredictability of living with the daily threat of deportation, restrictions of all sorts, and often in the face of discrimination by their teachers—so many are not just persisting in the American educational system, but achieving academically, and moreover often participating in service to their local communities. Perez reveals what drives these young people, and the visions they have for contributing to the country they call home.
Through these stories, this book draws attention to these students’ predicament, to stimulate the debate about putting right a wrong not of their making, and to motivate more people to call for legislation, like the stalled Dream Act, that would offer undocumented students who participate in the economy and civil life a path to citizenship.
Perez goes beyond this to discuss the social and policy issues of immigration reform. He dispels myths about illegal immigrants’ supposed drain on state and federal resources, providing authoritative evidence to the contrary. He cogently makes the case—on economic, social, and constitutional and moral grounds—for more flexible policies towards undocumented immigrants. If today’s immigrants, like those of past generations, are a positive force for our society, how much truer is that where undocumented students are concerned?
Americans by Heart examines the plight of undocumented Latino students as they navigate the educational and legal tightrope presented by their immigration status. Many of these students are accepted to attend some of our best colleges and universities but cannot afford the tuition to do so because they are not eligible for financial aid or employment. For the few that defy the odds and manage to graduate, their status continues to present insurmountable barriers to employment. This timely and compelling account brings to light the hard work and perseverance of these students and their families; their commitment to education and civic participation; and their deep sense of uncertainty and marginality. Offering a rich in-depth analysis, the author presents a new framework for educational policies that recognizes the merit and potential of undocumented Latino students and links their situation to larger social and policy issues of immigration reform and higher education access.
1. Exceptional Students, Marginal Lives
2. Growing up American and Undocumented
3. Academic Engagement
4. Civic Engagement
5. The Primary Gateway to Higher Education
6. Undocumented College Graduates and the Impact of Legal Status
William Pérez is an associate professor of education at Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California.
“No topic speaks more forcefully about the values of our country than how we treat the poor. Americans by Heart gives voice, hope and clarity to one of America’s most invisible groups—undocumented students. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the country’s current immigration policies, we all need to better understand the topic and hear the challenges, dreams, and struggles of these young people. This book is a compelling and thoughtful analysis on a much discussed but little studied topic.”
—William G. Tierney, University Professor and Wilbur Kieffer Professor of Higher Education, Director, Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis, University of Southern California
“In America today a growing caste of youth are coming of age on the shadows of the law. They are American at heart, but alas, not in the eyes of the law. Far from paralytic or silenced, they are fully engaged in a struggle for the autonomy of the human spirit. As Americans by Heart poignantly reveals, these youth are fully engaged—with a fierce optimism and Kantian rational agency—performing for us all nothing more and nothing less than what it means to be an American. I applaud William Pérez this urgent, important, and loving book. It is essential reading for all who worry about threats to our democratic promise.”
—Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, Ross University Professor of Globalization and Education, New York University
“This is a very courageous text that asks us as a nation to broaden our construction of citizenship to include the rights of the undocumented in our midst through policies that simultaneously tear down barriers and build bridges to higher education institutions for them. To do so is not only in our best interest as a country, but it responds to fundamental, national—and indeed, human—values related to fairness and human dignity. Kudos to William Pérez for his cogent, stirring analysis of an otherwise vexing social problem.