Making It at the Margins: Undocumented/DACAmented Youth in the United States

  • Cynthia Cueva-Luna

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis explores the experiences of undocumented generation 1.5 Latino youth in the United States. It examines how they negotiate the present and conceptualize the future as they move toward social adulthood without legal permanent status. My study is based on ten months of ethnographic fieldwork in Austin, Texas with two distinct groups of undocumented youth: those pursuing a university degree and young people outside of higher education. Everyone who formed part of my study arrived to the U.S. before the age of twelve and had been living in the country for a decade or longer. Across this thesis I trace the ways in which young people understand their ‘undocumentedness’ growing up, and how this perception changes as they begin to move toward social adulthood. I suggest that in an era of heightened immigration enforcement and in the state of Texas, undocumented youth develop an awareness of status from an early age. Legal status has a profound impact on their lives as children, including in school, as children of undocumented parents, in restricted access to medical services and as members of mixed-status families. However, I suggest that often they do not understand the full implications of their undocumented status until they start to face significant legal limitations. These barriers set youth apart from their documented peers and serve as a reminder that because they are undocumented, they are not entitled to the same rights and opportunities as other youth in America. My study took place from 2013-2014 during a crucial period in the history of U.S. immigration policy, a period in which the Obama administration implemented the ‘Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals’ (DACA) program. DACA granted the young people in my study the opportunity to obtain a temporary reprieve from deportation and legal work authorization. This thesis explores their everyday experiences both prior to and after the implementation of DACA. Central to this thesis is the contention that although young people face significant challenges and shifting legal and policy contexts, they strategize and do all that is in their power to ‘make it’ and move forward with their lives in the U.S.
Date of Award20 May 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJason Hart (Supervisor) & Tess Ridge (Supervisor)


  • undocumented youth
  • DACA
  • Latinos in America
  • migration
  • young people
  • undocumented status
  • agency

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