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California State University, Long Beach
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When a Student Reveals

When a student comes out to you, they share information about their immigration status with you with the keen awareness of the risks involved: the risk of jeopardizing their relationship with you, the risk of being rejected, and the risk of being denied success in your class or program. Unless you have given some indication of your feelings or beliefs about the undocumented, they may have no way of knowing in advance whether your reaction will be positive or negative.

What are some situations in which someone might come out to you?

The student may come out to you because you are a member of his or her own ethnic/racial group.

They feel that you are a person who will be understanding and accepting, and therefore trust you with very personal information.

They may not know how you will react, but they cannot complete the course requirements without telling you of their inability to comply with the requirements due to their situation.

They may come out to you because you are in a position to assist them with a concern, provide them information or access to certain resources.

They may come out to you because another student gave them your name.

How might you feel after someone comes out to you?


Surprised Not sure how to help
Inquisitive Not sure what to say
Impatient Not sure how to find out what to do about the matter
Supportive Want to help them seek out alternatives
Angry Upset about anti-immigrant sentiments

How you react to their disclosure is critical. It can potentially help them or discourage them enough that they will abandon seeking help from you. The more positively the person receives the information, the more comfortable he or she will make the student.

The student may even share their ambivalence about telling you. Assure them of confidentiality, do not try to “fix” everything without knowing what could jeopardize a student’s immigration status, do not give them false hope or “guesstimates”.

What you should not say

  • Are you illegal?
  • How did you get here?
  • Tell me about your immigration status.
  • So how do you live?
  • Is your family illegal too?
  • I can’t believe they let in illegals!
  • There are no alternatives to my requirements.

Ways you can help when someone comes out to you

Do not ask questions that would be considered rude. If you would like more information, ask in an honest and respectful way. If you show a genuine and respectful interest in their situation, they will most likely appreciate it. Some good questions are:

  • Is there someway I can help you?
  • If I do not have the answer to this, is it okay if I ask someone that does?
  • How do you suggest we work this out?

Do not assume that you know what it means to be undocumented. They may not want you to do anything, as much as they need information or referral. The student may just want you to know that they are not slackers; for example, they may want you to know that they simply do not have the financial resources or the ability to travel by car or travel abroad.

Consider it an honor that the student has trusted you with this very personal information. Thank them for trusting you.

Clarify with them what level of confidentiality they expect from you. They may not want you to tell anyone.

If you do not understand something or have questions, do not expect the student to be your informant on the undocumented.

Remember that not all undocumented students are AB 540 eligible.

If you find yourself reacting negatively, remember that your feelings may change. Try to leave the door open for future communications.

Adapted from Northern Illinois Safe Zone Ally Handbook and CSULB Safe Zone Becoming an Ally