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In the Eye of the Storm: Undocumented Mexican Migrant Students Navigating College in the Obama Era, 2009-2017

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Census estimates project that the Latinx population in the U.S. will reach 111.2 million people by the year 2060, an impressive 28% of the nation’s total projected population. In the summer of 2014, California reached its demographic “tipping point” – California’s 14.99 million Latinx residents officially outnumbered the 14.92 million white residents in the state. While Latinxs make up one of the fastest growing ethnoracial groups in the U.S., the educational system continues to fail to adequately support Latinx children and youth in their educational trajectories; of all ethnoracial groups, Latinx students are pushed out of the educational pipeline at the highest rates, having the lowest educational attainment of all ethnoracial groups in the U.S. This is particularly true with Latinxs migrants, especially those of Mexican origin, who reach the lowest levels of educational attainment. Yet, there is limited research that accounts for the complex experiences of students who navigate the neoliberal university as racialized and deportable subjects.

The DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001, but it gained popularity within the U.S. consciousness during the Obama Era (2009-2017) thanks to the escalation of the activist strategies deployed by undocumented youth demanding a pathway to citizenship. Over the years, this narrative increasingly became one echoing neoliberal discourses of belonging for “ideal” immigrants, inherently criminalizing those who do not fit capitalist demands. Recently, activists and scholars have discussed the limitations of the DREAMer narrative and the ways it has come to reflect tendencies toward hegemonic integration rather than liberation and abolition. This project is a qualitative study that considers the imperatives of Critical Race Theory, Chicana Feminist Epistemologies, and Decolonial Research Methodologies to contribute to the emerging body of scholarship authored by currently or formerly undocumented authors who refuse the neoliberal tendencies of the DREAMer narrative; as such, it contributes to the study of Immigration, Education, Race, Ethnicity, and Nation within Sociology.

The author uses grounded theory and Critical Race Theory to draw insights from interviews with eight Mexican migrants who navigated college while undocumented and as racialized subjects; four participants completed their Bachelor’s degrees at the University of California, Santa Barbara, three at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and one at Metropolitan State University, also in Minnesota. The interviews reveal the cumulative impact of state rule along the hegemonic educational and immigration pipelines as experienced by racialized undocumented college students, unearthing some of the ways physical and ideological border-making takes place within the confines of the U.S.-Mexico border and within those of the neoliberal university; furthermore, the experiences and insights of the people in this study reveal the navigational strategies they deploy as liminal subjects who refuse assimilation and deference to hegemonic domination.

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This item is under embargo until February 7, 2025.