Voices in Education

Documentation Status and Schooling: Confronting the Taboo
In recent years, immigration programs such as Secure Communities and 287(g) have enabled local law enforcement to carry out the practices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, which has contributed to unprecedented deportations of undocumented immigrants from the United States. Although national debates regarding undocumented immigrants often focus on adults and purport to target the most dangerous criminals, in practice these policies deeply impact the lives and learning of many children from mixed-status families whose parents are deported for minor infractions.
For the estimated 5.5 million children with undocumented family members, the possibility or realization of separation from their loved ones due to deportation is an important part of their lived realities. Yet as educators, teacher educators, and scholars, we rarely broach the topic of undocumented status as an axis of difference within schooling, and through our silences we leave educators with limited guidance on how to recognize and build upon the modern-day realities that many students bring to their classrooms. This leaves children searching for safe spaces to share and explore their immigration experiences, along with the knowledge and skills they have gained as a result, with caring adults outside of their families.
We envision creating more equitable schooling for immigrant students through an emphasis on funds of knowledge related to students’ and families’ experiences with immigration and immigration practices. Funds of knowledge frameworks challenge the notion that valuable knowledges are only created and learned within mainstream schooling, and instead provide pathways for educators to learn from the resources that diverse students bring to the classroom.
Although students’ experiences as members of undocumented families falls within the original intent of these approaches, those drawing on funds of knowledge research and pedagogies have tended toward less controversial topics. In practice this has left limited space to engage with current pressing themes for many children from undocumented families, such as how documentation status shapes their lives and learning. Rather than maintaining silence around issues of difference like immigration, we call for educational practices and policies that will better prepare educators to build upon students’ politicized funds of knowledge, the experiences, knowledges, and skills young people deploy and develop across learning contexts that are often not incorporated into classroom settings.
By evoking the term politicized funds of knowledge, we aim to raise awareness regarding the polemical nature of what counts as knowledge in schools and teacher education—not just for students with undocumented family members, but for all students. We understand schools as political spaces and perceive teaching as a political act, even when not positioned as such.
We believe that to be “neutral” is to support the status quo (whether consciously or unconsciously) and seek to enact asset-based pedagogies that account for the full range of children’s practices and knowledges, which may be complex and challenging. We recognize that this is not easy, but carefully confronting the taboo is necessary in order to truly support and draw from the range of realities and resources that young people bring to their learning, especially within a context of anti-immigrant sentiment.

About the Author: Sarah Gallo is an assistant professor of language, education, and society in the department of teaching and learning at The Ohio State University. Her research focuses on the innovative language and literacy resources that Latina/o immigrant children deploy and develop across educational contexts.
Holly Link is a PhD candidate in Educational Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on the communicative practices and schooling experiences of young people from minoritized backgrounds.