Teresa Puente

Teresa Puente has been an assistant professor of journalism at Columbia College Chicago since the fall of 2006, and she is the director of the News Reporting and Writing concentration. She also is the founder of Latina Voices and writes an independent blog for Chicago Now called Chicanísima. Puente was previously a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. She was a member of the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board and wrote a column for the op-ed section. Puente also has worked for dailies in Southern California and for Hispanic Link News Service in Washington, D.C. She is the recipient of the Studs Terkel Award from the Community Media Workshop for her coverage of Chicago’s diverse communities. She has been a journalist for almost 20 years and in that time has written extensively about immigration and the Latino community in the United States.

2011 Project Series

Story 1: Undocumented students find the path through college

Arianna Salgado is taking American government, English and other classes in her first semester at Dominican University in Chicago’s western suburbs. Like many students entering college these days she has to figure out how to pay for tuition. She attends a private college that offers private and merit-based scholarships to some undocumented students. And more private scholarships are expected to become available to undocumented students statewide under the new Illinois DREAM Act signed by Gov. Pat Quinn on Aug. 1. Click to see full story.

Story 2: Alabama attracts national immigrant activists

Alabama has become the focal point in the national immigration debate and immigrant activists from around the country travelled there to protest at the state Capitol. Activists are confronting Alabama’s law that requires police to check the immigration status of those arrested. Youth activists are no longer just focusing on the DREAM Act, which has stalled in the U.S. Congress. They are protesting against state laws like Alabama’s as well as against the Secure Communities policy of the Obama Administration that has led to increased deportations. Click to see full story.

Story 3: OWS not the only movement where protesters face arrest

While much attention has been paid to the Occupy Wall Street movement and recent arrests, there is another youth movement that hasn’t got as much national media attention. They call themselves the DREAMers. They are undocumented students and dozens of them have been arrested in the last two years for acts of civil disobedience to call attention to immigration policies in this country.  In doing so, they risk not only criminal charges but possible deportation. Click to see full story.

Story 4: Chicago man arrested protesting Alabama immigration law

Alabama has become the focal point in the national immigration debate and immigrant activists from around the country travelled there to protest at the state capitol on Tuesday. A Chicago man, Martin Unzueta was among 13 undocumented immigrants arrested in Montgomery. He is the father of one of the DREAM activists and leaders of the Immigrant Youth Justice League, Tania Unzueta. Mr. Unzueta is believed to be the first parent of a local Dreamer to be arrested for an act of civil disobedience. Three other parents from other states also were arrested. Click to see full story.

Story Behind the Story

I first started writing about the DREAM Act almost 10 years ago. I was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune when I first interviewed a young woman, Tania Unzueta, who was about to graduate from high school. Tania is now 27 and is still undocumented because there is no law that could help her become a legal permanent resident.

Over the last decade I have seen some of the youth known as the DREAMers grow up and graduate from college. Tania, for example, is in graduate school. I have covered the DREAM Act and the many failed attempts to see the legislation passed. I have told the stories of students struggling without papers.

For this Immigration in the Heartland fellowship I decided to explore a few new angles. One question I had: How do undocumented students pay for college? I found through reporting and research that there is a mishmash of state laws that determine this issue. Twelve states allow in-state tuition and four states forbid it for undocumented students. There also has been a movement to pass statewide DREAM Act laws from California to Illinois and Maryland. Some of these laws create separate financial mechanisms from private to public funds to help students pay for college. I interviewed two young women, one an undergraduate and the other a graduate student, to explore how they have been able to pay for college. I published this piece in the Extra bilingual newspaper in Chicago.

In recent years, the DREAM Act students also have stepped up acts of civil disobedience. They realize it will be tough to get Congress to pass the DREAM Act and they have broadened their focus to other immigration policies, such as Secure Communities and the anti-immigrant law in Alabama. I wrote two pieces.  One about a DREAM Act father arrested in Alabama was published in Extra. I did another piece on why students have turned to publicly “out” themselves and commit acts of civil disobedience. That was published on Open Salon.

The IJJ  fellowship experience helped me explore these new angles on a topic that I was already very familiar with. I went back to a familiar source like Unzueta but found new voices in the movement, such as Arianna Salgado and Fanny Martinez.

I regularly write about immigration for my independent blog, Chicanísima, on Chicago Now, a blog site run by the Tribune Co. But this project also motivated me to look for new places to publish, such as EXTRA and Open Salon.

The fellowship conference introduced me to the anti-immigration law in Oklahoma and sparked me to start tracking what is happening in other states. At the conference it became clearer to me that this immigration debate was playing out most dramatically on the state level. Alabama is just the latest example. It’s become even more evident that the debate over immigration is a local issue playing out in cities and states across the United States.

I would advise journalists that there are always new angles to explore on the immigration beat. This is a topic I have written about for nearly 20 years and yet the story still continues to evolve in new ways. I think coverage of this topic is now more important than ever.

I think it’s also important that journalists do not paint undocumented immigrants as victims or as voiceless. We know from the DREAMers that many are deliberately vocal about their status and they are challenging the Obama Administration on its policies. They are not in the shadows. They are in school. They are in the streets. They are protesting. They are as they say, “Undocumented and Unafraid.”

I think journalists can tell more of the DREAMers’ stories and how they are shaping a new and evolving civil rights movement. Alabama is becoming a focal point on this issue. I also published an article on the new immigrant civil rights movement for Extra bilingual newspaper.

I think these stories have impact. My story about the Chicago father of a DREAMer arrested in Alabama was not even covered by the Chicago newspapers. In addition to reporting it on EXTRA, I also published it on Chicago Now.

The response to the stories from the DREAMers was positive. Readers thanked me for the stories. My blog is a vital source of local and national news on immigration. Still there are always people against immigration and they also posted comments on my blog against undocumented immigrants.

My main challenge was time. I am a full-time journalism professor and I have many other responsibilities. However, I am committed to writing about immigration and teaching students how to cover immigration. In fact, I’m teaching a “Covering Immigration” course at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where I am a visiting professor this fall.

My students are writing and reporting about the DREAM Act, about immigrants in detention and about English-only laws. I feel that in addition to continuing to write and report on immigration, this fellowship instilled in me the importance of teaching students how to cover immigration.



1)”Undocumented students find the path through college”


2) “Alabama attracts national immigrant activists”


3) “Alabama mimics state of the 60s”


Open Salon

4)”OWS not the only movement where protesters face arrest”



5) “Chicago man arrested protesting Alabama immigration law”


Blogs from March 2011 during IJJ conference

6) “In America’s Heartland, church leaders support immigrant rights”


7) “Former undocumented immigrants tell stories from the Heartland”


8) “Virgil Peck suggested shooting immigrants in Kansas and a Native American lawmaker in Oklahoma said immigrants ‘not wanted’ ”


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