Undocumented Immigrants and Policy Advocacy: Reasserting the Activist Roots of Social Work

Stewart, Tatum

The social work profession is positioned to play a critical role in redefining policies surrounding historically marginalized immigrants in the United States. The creation of the concept of the "undocumented immigrant" reflects an embedded discriminatory aspect of immigration policy, and becomes reinforced in policies that actively dehumanize undocumented immigrants, inhibiting their social integration. When the social origins of law cease to be recognized, the legal concept of the "undocumented immigrant" becomes understood as the result of law-breaking by the individual rather than as a socially constructed concept. Undocumented immigrants acknowledge that they have adapted to an American way of life, yet they do not feel they belong. Undocumented youth experience a shift from feeling a sense of belonging to feeling marginalized. The code of ethics shared by all social workers provides an ideal foundation for social workers to pursue roles as social justice activists. This paper makes two specific recommendations. First, national social work organizations should emphasize the history of social activism in social work. Second, social workers should develop skills to assert political views that embrace policy goals and advance social justice. By enhancing their capacity for policy change, social workers will realign with the profession's activist roots.


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Columbia Social Work Review

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Academic Units
Social Work
Published Here
September 3, 2015