This research project lies at the intersection of immigrant incorporation, academic institutions, urban politics and U.S. law. I am interested on the role of local, state, and federal laws and policies in creating institutional conditions and fostering social networks that influence democratic politics and levels of immigrant assimilation and incorporation. To that end, I investigate the social networking ability of academic institutional actors (specifically undocumented AB540 students) based on conditions created and fostered by state and federal policy within schools. I examine the role of schools and school activities in offering opportunities and creating (or not) fertile conditions for social networking that may ultimately lead to segmented patterns of academic achievement and/or social incorporation of immigrant students and I analyze the role of undocumented AB540 students within these networks in democratic politics, more specifically in creating, re-creating, and/or re-defining legality.
For over three years, I conducted brief and in-depth interviews with 20 undocumented AB540 students and executed monthly shadowing sessions and participant observations of 6 of these student participants. I also conducted archival research, including legislative histories of immigration and education policies, and analyzed the content of coverage in local mainstream and ethnic media, including newspapers and talk-shows. Based on this multi-method research design, I argue that local, state, and federal policies create institutional conditions that offer opportunities for undocumented immigrants to latch on to social networks that may affect their levels of academic achievement and social incorporation. This in turn, helps us to understand the varying and segmented patterns of academic achievement and social incorporation of immigrant youth that continue to maintain structures of social inequality.
This project expands upon the literature on immigrant assimilation and incorporation by analyzing the benefits and drawbacks of local, state and federal laws like Plyler vs. Doe and AB540 that grant undocumented youth opportunities for inclusion and incorporation through education yet, at the same time they set limitations that often lead to social and economic barriers and consequently end up sending mixed and conflicting messages. This project also contributes to the literature on the schooling of immigrant children and youth, particularly Latino youth. In the last half-century, schooling has emerged as both - "the first sustained, meaningful, and enduring participation in an institution of the new society" and "the surest path to well-being and status mobility" (Suarez-Orozco, C., Suarez-Orozco, M., Todorova, p. 2, 2008). In schools, immigrant youth forge new friendships, create and solidify social networks, and acquire the academic, linguistic, and cultural knowledge that ultimately sustains them throughout their journey in the U.S. This said, my project also contributes to literature on social capital as it investigates how people's social capital responds to organizational conditions and supports research that argues that social networks are "sets of context-dependent relations resulting from routine processes in organizational context" and as a result "individuals receive distinct advantages from being embedded in effective broker-organizations that both, intentionally and unintentionally, connect people to other people, organizations, and their resources" (Small, p.vi, 2009). This research also shows that many practices, resources, and information available and offered to undocumented AB540 students often result from larger factors such as policies of the state, something far removed from these students' daily lived experiences. Furthermore, this project makes a contribution to the urban politics literature by highlighting that undocumented AB540 students are a distinct type of urban political actors with a presence and influence in local politics that is different from that of other immigrants, minorities, and underrepresented groups. Finally, I believe the results of this project will help shape our knowledge of the possibilities and challenges local, state, and federal legislations provide for how we define legality, citizenship, and belonging as well as how we analyze immigrants' processes of assimilation and/or incorporation to address the diversity challenges of America's sizable undocumented Latino population.