DISSERTATION DEFENSE ANNOUNCEMENT Ph.D. in Education Program Ana Morron: “To Look For a Better Life: Examining the Experiences of Undocumented Latina/o Youth On their Higher Education and Employment Aspirations”

11:00 am - 12:00 pm

There are eleven million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Approximately two million are young people under the age of twenty-four. Although they came to the United States as children and were essentially raised and educated here, they remain without a pathway to legal permanent citizenship. Relatively little is known about the experiences of undocumented immigrant young people who are growing up and living their daily lives in the United States. Although they were born in other countries, they are being incorporated into U.S. society as young adults. Institutions, such as the U.S. immigration enforcement regime, present legal challenges for undocumented immigrants, while restrictive economic and social structures affect their participation in the economy and society.

The purpose of this study was to understand how higher education and employment aspirations are influenced by various factors, particularly the limitations of illegality, but also class and racism (nativism). Data was collected through in-depth interviews, written assignments, a focus group, and observations with undocumented immigrant Latina/o young people and their families, and analyzed using Undocumented Critical Theory framework and qualitative methods.

The study found that these undocumented immigrant Latina/o young people are extremely motivated to achieve their hopes and dreams; however, they experience challenges due to structural barriers which prevent them from freely participating in all areas of society, which consequently shapes their higher education and employment aspirations. Participation is limited due to their undocumented status, but also because of their socioeconomic background, their race and ethnicity, their family background, their educational experiences, and even their language skills. Nevertheless, the undocumented immigrant young people in this study found creative, alternative ways to assert their sense of belonging. They found ways to negotiate and navigate their situations as they transitioned into adulthood and strove to meet certain rites of passage, such as graduation.

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