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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Latino Undocumented 1.5-generation: Navigating Belonging in New and Old Destinations

  • Author(s): Burciaga, Edelina Muñoz
  • Advisor(s): Feliciano, Cynthia
  • et al.

11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States. Of these, about 2 million are members of the undocumented 1.5-generation, meaning they came to the United States as children and remain here without a pathway to citizenship. This dissertation fills a gap in the immigration literature by comparing the incorporation experiences of undocumented young adults living in welcoming and hostile contexts. I specifically examine if and how state laws and policies shape the incorporation pathways of this group. Drawing from in-depth interviews with 70 Latino undocumented young adults, ages 18-30, in Los Angeles, California and Atlanta, Georgia, I find that Latino undocumented young adults negotiate multiple social and legal contexts as they navigate the transition to adulthood. I argue that Latino undocumented young adults’ connection to their families intersects with state laws and policies and an uncertain federal policy landscape to shape their everyday lived experience as well as their aspirations for their futures. To explain how these social and legal contexts intersect, I introduce the concept of nested socio-legal contexts. In three empirical chapters, I examine how nested socio-legal contexts shape Latino undocumented young adults in key areas of their lives including identity development, education, and political participation. Despite growing up and living in very different contexts, I find that Latino undocumented young adults in California and Georgia describe surprisingly similar feelings of uncertainty about their present lives and their futures. The federal political climate is a significant force that influences Latino undocumented young adults’ ideas about “Americanness” and citizenship, which in turn shapes their ethnic identity. State laws and policies, especially in the realm of higher educational access, create structural barriers at different points for Latino young adults in California and Georgia, impacting their opportunities for social mobility and sense of belonging. In both states, Latino undocumented young adults are deeply motivated by their parents’ migration sacrifices. This shapes nearly every facet of their lives including their educational aspirations and political participation. Ultimately, I argue that Latino undocumented young adults’ experiences of “illegality” and belonging are informed by nested socio-legal contexts that creates both inclusion and exclusion.

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