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Examining the Role an "Illegal" Identifier has on the Identity, Social Interactions, and Academic Experiences of Undocumented Latina/o Students


Negative stereotypes associated with immigrants have resulted in the socially constructed notion of "illegality." Nativist sentiments have perpetuated a barrage of anti-immigrant laws that have become largely associated with Mexican immigrants (De Genova, 2004). Recent implementation of draconian laws such as Arizona's SB 1070 and Alabama's HB 56 provide an opportunity to investigate the impact such laws have on the identity, social interactions, and academic experiences and aspirations of undocumented Latina/o students in the U.S.

Research on immigrant youth has favored assimilation frameworks, which highlight deficiencies and perpetuate stereotypes overlooking the systemic role racism and nativism play in the educational outcomes of undocumented students (Perez Huber et al., 2008). In contrast, taking a strength-based approach, this study applies Social Identity Theory (SIT) and Latina/o Critical Theory (LatCrit) which privileges the in-depth stories of 12 Latina/o undocumented high school, community college, and university students between the ages of 14 and 25.

Findings suggest that anti-immigrant sentiments exacerbate the negative connotation of an "illegal" identifier for certain identities such as class, student, and sibling identities. An "illegal" identifier also influences social interactions. For example, students reveal having a small group of trustworthy friends to whom they confide their immigration status. In addition, students discuss how well-informed and supportive teachers and counselors make a positive impact on their academic progress. Moreover, students share their excitement over the personal benefits of President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). In this study, three legislations--California's AB 540, DREAM Act, and DACA--are credited for diminishing the economic challenges associated with school related expenses, such as tuition, housing, and books. Research findings will be shared with all research sites in order to help administration create/expand resources, academic programs, and support systems for this student population.

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