Everyday acts of resistance: New study shows how mentors support undocumented youth

Sánchez, B., Garcia-Murillo, Y., Monjaras-Gaytan, L. Y., Thursby, K., Ulerio, G., de los Reyes, W., Salusky, I. R., & Rivera, C. S. (2022). Everyday acts of resistance: Mexican, undocumented immigrant children and adolescents navigating oppression with mentor support. Journal of Research on Adolescence. 


Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Having an undocumented status is associated with negative youth development outcomes.
  • This is especially concerning given the amount of youth with undocumented status who grow up in the U.S. and are a part of the American educational system.
  • Mentoring is a promising intervention to support undocumented immigrant students.
  • This study a) assesses the oppression undocumented Mexican immigrant youth experience in education and b) how mentors and other supportive adults help them resist it. 
  • Critical junctions of student oppression: 
    • Racial or discriminatory incidents
    • Developmental milestones & school events
    • The college process
    • Unforeseen events
  • Mentors and other supportive adults helped them navigate the oppression they were experiencing through emotional, instrumental, & financial support, role modeling, advocacy, and social capital efforts. 
  • In-school and community-based programs need to train their staff and volunteers to support and advocate for undocumented youth.
  • U.S. policy must provide a more straightforward citizenship process.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Study aims were to examine oppression in education among Mexican immigrant youth with undocumented status and how mentors and other adults helped them resist oppression. Qualitative, narrative one-on-one interviews were conducted with 17 Mexican immigrant young adults with undocumented or DACA status in the U.S. Participants provided retrospective accounts from childhood through older adolescence. Analyses revealed critical junctures in which participants experienced oppression: (1) developmental milestones and school events, (2) college application process, (3) unforeseen life events, and (4) incidents of racial discrimination. Mentors and other adults helped participants to resist oppression through advocacy, social capital efforts, role modeling, and emotional, instrumental, and financial support. This study fills gaps in the literature on mentoring and immigrant youth who are undocumented.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Guided by oppression and resistance frameworks (Prilleltensky, 2003) and the integrative risk and resilience model of the development of immigrant-origin children and adolescents (Suárez-Orozco et al., 2018), this study utilized retrospective reports to examine the critical junctures in which Mexican immigrant students who are undocumented experienced systemic and interpersonal oppression in their education and the ways that their mentors and other supportive adults helped them to resist and navigate oppression. A contribution of this study is that we examined varying points within participants’ educational trajectory, from elementary school to college, in which they experienced oppression, rather than solely focusing on the college application process. Although most of the participants had DACA status at the time of the interview, the majority of their narratives reflected their educational experiences as students who were undocumented, and as such, findings shed light on the experiences of undocumented children and adolescents. Further, despite the growing research on natural mentors in young people’s lives (Van Dam et al., 2018), this is one of the first investigations on mentoring and immigrant children and adolescents who are undocumented in the United States (Birman & Morland, 2014). Given the long-standing anti-immigrant rhetoric in the United States, particularly toward Mexican immigrants, it is essential that researchers examine the ways that mentors serve as a protective resource to promote the healthy development of Mexican immigrant children and adolescents who are undocumented and experience many forms of oppression.

To access this article, click here.