Marisol Clark-Ibáñez and Richelle S. Swan
Unauthorized: Portraits of Latino Immigrants
Rowman & Littlefield, 2019
309 pages

Reviewed by Jackie Pedota

Unauthorized: Portraits of Latino Immigrants by Marisol Clark-Ibáñez and Richelle S. Swan portrays the complexities one encounters when understanding the undocumented Latinx experience in the United States (US). The authors explain why Latinx immigrants come to the US in search of a better life and push readers to move past generalizations and known dominant narratives about them by highlighting substantiated facts and personal stories. They balance the use of statistics and first-person narratives to promote an understanding of immigration that centers on truth, dignity, and humanity. This book is structured to highlight issues about unauthorized immigration intersections with various fields and disciplines. 

Each chapter within the book provides an eye-opening, yet, at times, horrific look, into the lived experiences of undocumented Latinx immigrants as they navigate various US social institutions such as education, healthcare, and the legal system. Each chapter is so organized that it provides a broad summary across different disciplines. For example, scholars needing an overview of how the media has portrayed undocumented Latinx immigrants can find all relevant information organized in an accessible way in Chapter two. The format for each chapter is easy for a diverse audience to follow. The chapters begin with a personal narrative, incorporate visual media, and explicitly debunk common myths about undocumented immigrants. 

The authors have made a wise and calculated choice in sharing information via diverse personal stories throughout the book. These stories are powerful, digestible, and emotional without sensationalizing or stereotyping undocumented Latinx immigrants. They support the authors’ argument that there is no one specific type of undocumented immigrant more deserving of a path to US citizenship than another. The quantitative data and stories shared actively challenge the politicization of undocumented Latinx immigrants that leads some to be seen as undesirable or undeserving; the writers assert that humanity and dignity should be prioritized over productivity and capitalist benefits. These diverse personal narratives show that there are varied immigration experiences that are not thoroughly examined within the dominant discourse. 

Much of the data and personal accounts shared within each chapter are bound by time, space, and place which helps in contextualizing a complex and ever-changing immigration system. Latinx people are not a monolith, and the same can be said about the experience of undocumented Latinx individuals. The authors focus on the differences that exist across contexts including but not limited to cities, nationalities, political beliefs, and periods. This book pushes policymakers, non-profit organizations, and quantitative and qualitative researchers to re-conceptualize how they plan to incorporate personal (e.g., immigration status, ethnicity, and race) and environmental characteristics as variables in their work with immigrant populations. 

Clark-Ibáñez and Swan published this book in 2019, which is especially timely considering the anti-immigration sentiment perpetuated by the Trump administration. While Latinx immigration had been a point of contention long before the Trump administration, he and his administration have loudly and unapologetically sowed fear and disgust towards undocumented immigrants, particularly those from Mexico and Central America. The authors provide an overview of the underlying social, historical, and political information needed to truly understand how the US has gotten to this point under the Trump administration where immigrants are increasingly demonized. While it is easy to fixate on the current human rights violations and the suffering that undocumented Latinx immigrants endure, the authors are intentional in juxtaposing the suffering with narratives of aspirations, triumphs, and social movements. 

Chapter seven is entirely dedicated to amplifying stories and experiences of collective resistance within the documented and undocumented Latinx community. The DACA movement and the Farmworkers’ movement are two notable examples of undocumented-focused social movements that are featured within this chapter. The fear of surveillance and deportation fails to stop many undocumented youth and adults from advocating for humane policies that can substantially improve the lives of undocumented people in the US. Many undocumented people go so far as to protest while in detention centers or even intentionally get themselves deported to boldly bring attention to the injustices they face. 

This book can be a useful introductory text for researchers whose work touches on any of the following: education, health, employment, law/policy, journalism/media studies, or social movements. The authors offer the book to readers as an overview, and they openly interrogate where it might fall short and what purposes it does not serve. To fully understand the current undocumented immigrant experiences in the US, it’s important to consider how the US has historically influenced turmoil and politics in Latin America (this includes the Caribbean). While this book does briefly mention instances in which US policies have negatively impacted the economies in Latin America, it does not fully explore the complicated, rich, and contentious history that justifies calls for US accountability.

As a critical scholar and daughter of White Cuban immigrants who came to the US seeking political asylum, I’m keenly aware of how race and racialization shape the experiences of Latinx undocumented immigrants in the US. Despite mentions of nativism and racism, the authors fail to problematize the racialization of Latinx undocumented immigrants and how that defines their experience in the US. At a time of heightened racial violence and reckoning, the book has no direct reference or substantial discussion on how race shapes the experiences of undocumented Latinx immigrants. Race plays an important part in how a person can access resources and navigate spaces within the US, especially as an undocumented immigrant. Afro-Latinx people come from all parts of Latin America and given the highly racialized criminal justice system in the US, Black undocumented people are detained and deported at higher rates. Undocumented immigrants with closer proximity to Whiteness benefit to an extent from White supremacy embedded into the fabric of the US. 

The intended audience for this book can range from undergraduate students in Latinx courses to someone that wants a comprehensible way to bring learning about Latinx immigration in the US. Although the authors use statistics to rationalize the claims they make, they take a stance regarding US immigration policies and unequivocally express their positionalities at the beginning of the book. They use concrete data and asset-based language to craft explanations in a way that could reasonably compel people across political beliefs to find common ground in support for more effective and humane immigration policies. I find their most compelling argument to be one that situates immigration policies as policies that impact everyone, not just undocumented immigrants. The authors examine and suggest immigration reform in a way that could benefit all people socially, psychologically, and economically.