Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Multilayered Analyses of the Experiences of Undocumented Latinx College Students

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Multilayered Analyses of the Experiences of Undocumented Latinx College Students

Article excerpt

Unauthorized immigration has been a controversial topic in the United States (U.S.) for some time now. Over 11 million unauthorized (also called undocumented) people live in America (Passel & Cohn, 2015) and thousands of unauthorized youth cross the border each month (Dinan, 2015). Given their legal status, undocumented youth face multiple issues in terms of education, healthcare, and labor (Weerasinghe, Gozdziak, & Laufbahn, 2013). Aspiring to higher education, in particular, is a burdensome endeavor for unauthorized immigrants, given the existing political and social barriers for people lacking a legal immigration status--from higher tuition fees to discrimination and rejection. The existent political climate in the U.S. has brought the topic of undocumented immigration to the forefront. The current presidential administration has been working to make deportation a more streamlined and efficient process while raising disciplinary consequences for those that might aid illegal immigrants (Kulish et al., 2017). This study takes place in the aftermath of several contentious legal policies passed in Arizona regarding Chicano/Chicana and Latino/Latina education, which have had a significant impact in the ability of undocumented youth to have access to college.

Political and Social Context in Arizona

The college aspirations of undocumented youth have been influenced by harsh legislation nationwide, but Arizona has shown a unique political climate and a historical attitude toward undocumented students. Arizona has been a site of contention regarding its policies toward undocumented students, which have been described as discriminatory (Power, 2013), harsh, racist (Del Razo, 2012), and even xenophobic (Aguila, 2013). The state has implemented multiple policies that hinder the ability of undocumented students to pursue college while promoting anti-immigrant sentiments among members of the society. For example, bills that deny these students in-state tuition have been proposed and passed, limiting their ability to pay for college. Due to other legal proposals, students suspected of being undocumented due to racial profiling have been subject to questioning and interrogation about their status as citizens. Furthermore, a bill that bans the instruction of ethnic studies in public schools in grades K-12 was signed by the Arizona government in 2010 (Aguila, 2013; Shepherd, 2011), promoting anti-immigrant agendas which also affect unauthorized students pursuing education. Despite major criticisms of Arizona's undocumented student policies, such policies are being considered legal (Arellano, 2012).

To understand the phenomenon of undocumented students in Arizona, scholars have been engaged in research with this population. A large-scale study with undocumented students was conducted in 2011 at the University of Arizona. After collecting and interpreting interview data, the researchers divided preliminary themes into two key areas: social disruption and institutional mistrust (University of Arizona, 2011, p. 7). Social disruption encompassed a number of sub-themes, including self-deportation, declines in academic performance, declines in physical health, and emotional upheaval/instability. Institutional mistrust referred to the ways that interviewees reported fear of law enforcement officials and suspicion of educational institutions; both "[raise] public safety concerns and [undermine] attempts to inculcate a sense of respect for public institutions and authorities" (University of Arizona, 2011, p. 19).

While several studies have explored the impact that such discriminatory laws had on undocumented Arizona students during their inception, (Aguila, 2013; University of Arizona, 2011; Vega Najera, 2010), few studies have looked at how students have begun to react to and navigate the political and educational climate in the aftermath of such policies (Morales et al., 2011; Spinney, 2015). Given that reactions leading to social change can inspire other undocumented youth to pursue and thrive in academic endeavors, this represents an important gap in the literature. …

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