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Politically Excluded, Undocu-Engaged: The Perceived Effect of Hostile Immigration Policies on Undocumented Student Political Engagement


Prior research suggests that hostile immigration policies can motivate undocumented immigrants’ political engagement, but may also create unique risks that limit their willingness to participate. We examine how perceptions of the immigration policy context may help or hinder undocumented college students’ political engagement. Using data from an online survey of 1,277 undocumented college students attending California 4-year public universities, we conducted regression analyses to examine the extent to which perceived discrimination, social exclusion, and threat to the family due to current immigration policy affects three forms of political engagement: political voice, collective action, and individual action. We then examined potential factors that may facilitate engagement, including participation in campus and community-based organizations and legal protections. Results show that perceived discrimination and threat to family due to the immigration policy context are positively associated with all forms of political engagement, while social exclusion is negatively associated. Campus and community engagement weakly moderate these relationships. Comparisons across immigration status suggest that many of these relationships are unique to students who have legal protections like DACA. Ultimately, we argue that undocumented students’ political engagement is shaped by nuanced manifestations of a hostile immigration policy context.

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