Mediating Illegality: Federal, State, and Institutional Policies in the Educational Experiences of Undocumented College Students

Published by Laura E. Enriquez, Martha Morales Hernandez, Daniel Millán, and Daisy Vazquez Vera

Immigration federalism scholarship has established that state and local government policies can make federally defined immigration status more or less consequential. Drawing primarily on focus groups and interviews with 184 undocumented students attending the University of California, we suggest that institutional policies work alongside state and local efforts to mediate the consequences of illegality for undocumented students. We find that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, state-funded financial aid policies, and university support programs all facilitate the integration of undocumented students by increasing access to higher education and enabling fuller participation. Although federal policies contribute to persistent barriers to academic engagement and professional development, we show that universities can intervene to improve educational experiences and opportunities. Ultimately, we argue that university policies are a key site for intervening in immigration policy and constructing immigrant illegality.

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