It’s Peer Review Week, an annual event to celebrate the value of peer review that brings together scholarly communication stakeholders, including academic publishers, associations, institutions, and researchers. This year’s theme is “Research Integrity: Creating and supporting trust in research.” This week we will share excerpts on the topic of peer review and research integrity from some of our books. Today we present an excerpt from We are Not Dreamers: Undocumented Scholars Theorize Undocumented Life in the United States edited by Leisy J. Abrego and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales in which they discuss the ethics of doing research with undocumented students and scholars.
This is a unique volume. There is currently no other collection of empirical and theoretical work by undocumented or recently undocumented scholars. As editors of this volume, this was certainly an empirical and analytical matter, but also a methodological one. Each author details their own methodological approach in the chapters, but there are broader methodological interventions
that must also be named. These involve explicitly positioning undocumented scholars as theorists of the undocumented experience while being mindful of the ethics involved in doing this work.
At the outset of this project, we were clear that we did not want this to be a collection of testimonies, narrative reflections, or first-person essays; this is not to say that there is not value in such endeavors, but rather to be clear that such a project is politically, analytically, and methodologically distinct from our aims here. This volume is an intentional effort to position this work as critical to the field in that it pushes our understanding of undocumented life in the United States at this time. Thus, the positioning of the undocumented immigrant as scholar is a direct departure from the treatment of the undocumented immigrant as subject or object. This positioning is not only pragmatic or practical, it is also methodological.
Part of our politic and analytic around this is that this process of undocumentation (Negrón-Gonzales 2018), while it is discussed in public discourse as a clear-cut matter, is a social, legal, and political construction. There is nothing inherent in people that makes them undocumented. There is nothing unchangeable in society that determines that undocumented people are criminals. On the contrary, people move in and out of undocumenteds status and legal, political, and social treatment of undocumented people changes across different historical moments (Ngai 2004). Methodologically, then, it made sense to us to capture these experiences by including people who have direct experience with being undocumented and scholars, whether they are currently undocumented, daca recipients, or formerly undocumented for a notable part of their lives as students. We feel strongly that the authors in this volume have an important role to play in shaping the field.
The other methodological dimension worth illuminating concerns research ethics. Many theorists of undocumented migration have aimed to be thoughtful in how they approach research ethically (Hernández et al. 2013; Suárez-Orozco and Yoshikawa 2013). Some have written about the ethics of
cocreating theory with undocumented students who are the focus of analysis (Pérez Huber 2010), while others provide undocumented students with research training and writing support (Clark-Ibáñez 2015; Mena Robles and Gomberg-Muñoz 2016; Unzueta Carrasco and Seif 2014). There is, however,
a persistent disconnection in the field more broadly. Undocumented young people note that there is a pattern of researchers entering spaces of organizing—sometimes without permission—only to gather information for their studies, never to be seen again. Those researchers have failed to reciprocate with undocumented immigrant communities, rarely using their skills to support the advocacy work that they document. And in most of those cases, people who participated in the study were not informed of the findings. Authors in this volume have had conversations about how to address these concerns regarding immigration scholars who are not themselves undocumented. One response, in particular, thoughtfully details the problems and suggests best practices for scholars to follow when conducting research with undocumented communities.
Gabrielle Cabrera, one of the authors featured in this volume, along with Ines Garcia and an anonymous student at their undergraduate institution in California, got together shortly after the election of Donald Trump. In an attempt to be proactive in this new political context and rooted in what they saw as the nonreciprocal pattern of engagement described above, they developed a brief guide on research ethics for scholars and researchers who were turning to write about undocumented youth in the midst of heightened political threats.
As is true of many scholars we have worked with, Cabrera, Garcia, and their peers highlight the need to push back on the dreamer narrative, not only identifying its limitations but also highlighting how it reifies and sanctifies a certain kind of “good” immigrant. This pushback is a persistent theme across the chapters in this book, and the analytical contributions of these young scholars remind us that a key part of decolonizing research methodologies involves disrupting the assumed unmovable distinction between the researcher and the researched. Part of that process involves marginalized people theorizing and producing scholarship about the experiences of their communities.