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Gendering Illegality: Undocumented Young Adults’ Negotiation of the Family Formation Process


Although previous scholarship demonstrates that gender profoundly affects the immigrant incorporation process, few studies assess the role of gender in the lives of 1.5-generation undocumented young adults. Drawing on 92 in-depth interviews, I examine how gender and immigration status intersect to affect undocumented young adults’ dating, marriage, and parenting experiences. Although all undocumented young adults face the same structural limitations, I argue that their gendered social position leads men and women to experience and negotiate their illegality differently. Gendered expectations make immigration status relevant in different ways throughout of the family formation process, and affect undocumented young adults’ ability to negotiate the limitations associated with their immigration status. As a result, undocumented young men are less likely than women to fully participate in family formation and move toward social incorporation. These findings suggest that gender plays a significant role in shaping experiences of illegality and that navigating gendered expectations is an important micro-level process within immigrant incorporation.

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