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“Undocumented 1.5 Generation Young Adults and the Transition to Work and Uncertainty. Roberto G. Gonzales, Ph.D. University of Washington February 14, 2011. Gabriel’s Story . Not likely to be eligible for the DREAM Act Have few supporters No social movement AND Have limited legal options

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roberto g gonzales ph d university of washington february 14 2011

“Undocumented 1.5 Generation Young Adults and the Transition to Work and Uncertainty

Roberto G. Gonzales, Ph.D.

University of Washington

February 14, 2011

a very different narrative

Not likely to be eligible for the DREAM Act

  • Have few supporters
  • No social movement


  • Have limited legal options
  • Heavy financial responsibilities

Very likely to fade into the twilight of the greater undocumented population

A very different narrative
larger project

How does undocumented status shape the educational and developmental trajectories of undocumented youth as they transition to adulthood?

    • 4 ½ year project – 2003-2007, 2009
        • 1.5 generation undocumented young adults ages 20-34
    • Ethnography
      • 5 County Los Angeles Metropolitan Area
      • Involvement of over 250 young adults
      • In-depth Interviews
      • 150 interviewed
      • 78 life histories
  • Comparison Groups:
      • College-goers
      • *Early-exiters
Larger project
contemporary migration

At 2.1 million, 1.5 generation undocumented youth constitute 15-18 % of the undocumented population

  • Of these, 62 percent (1.3 million+) likely not to meet requirements for the DREAM Act legalization
Contemporary Migration
invisible victims of immigration restriction
  • Changes in immigration policy—tightening of the border, mandatory bars, displacement in sending countries
  • Increases in settlement patterns—more women and children
  • Growth in sizeable and vulnerable undocumented youth population
the dilemma

Plyler V. Doe (1982) provides K-12 access

    • Ruling did not address education beyond high school
  • Decreased opportunities along with increased responsibilities
    • Exclusion from financial aid and formal labor market
    • Needed to pitch in at home
  • Tens of thousands graduate high school every year encountering changed circumstances
The Dilemma
moving from school to work

Turn of the 20th century immigrants found work in an expanding industrial economy

  • Well-paid blue collar jobs are now relics of the past
  • High returns on education - Increasingly more young people are finding themselves shut out of access to opportunities that could lift them out of poverty
  • Immigrants have been able to find jobs, but these are not the kinds of jobs they want for their children
Moving from school to work
contemporary scholarship

How are today’s children of immigrants responding to limited opportunities?

Immigrant Incorporation Scholarship

  • 2nd generation decline thesis – mismatch between aspiration and opportunity
  • Downward assimilation
    • Criticized for being overly pessimistic and not solely and immigrant problem
    • Oppositional culture argument overstated
Contemporary Scholarship
contemporary scholarship1

How are today’s children of immigrants responding to limited opportunities?

Urban Poverty Scholarship

  • Lack of important family and community social capital
  • Youth susceptible to alternative and illicit activities
    • Concentrated poverty explanations often ignore region- and immigrant-specific dynamics
    • California has experienced qualitatively different shifts in the labor market, and Mexican migrants have not experienced joblessness as much as underemployment and stagnant wages
Contemporary Scholarship

As undocumented children make transitions to adolescence and adulthood, they move from a protected to unprotected status, from inclusion to exclusion, from de facto legal to “illegal”

making the transition
Making the Transition

Protected Status

Transition to Adulthood

Awake to a Nightmare

  • Late adolescence triggers legal limitations:
  • Working
  • Driving
  • Financial Aid
  • Bars

K-12 education is free and legal

Most institutions in childhood do not require legal status

Succession of blocked opportunities

Fear, stigma, changed social patterns

Forced decisions—reveal or conceal

transition to illegality

School structures shape access to resources critical to undocumented students

Gonzales, Roberto G. 2010. “On the Wrong Side of the Tracks: The Consequences of School Stratification Systems for Unauthorized Mexican Students." Peabody Journal of Education, Volume 85 Issue 4, 469.

  • Even as schools track and stratify students, they also foster a culture of meritocracy, rendering immigration status irrelevant to how undocumented youth learn to navigate the primary institution of this stage of the life course

Gleeson, Shannon, and Roberto G. Forthcoming. “When Do Papers Matter? An Institutional Analysis of Undocumented Life in the United States.” International Migration.

Transition to illegality
transition to illegality1

Late adolescence begins a transition to illegality that involves the almost complete retooling of daily routines, survival skills, aspirations, and social patterns.

  • Undocumented youngsters enter the transition to illegality at different levels of education

Gonzales, Roberto G. (In Press) "Learning to be Illegal: Undocumented Youth and Shifting Legal Contexts in the Transition to Adulthood.” American Sociological Review.

Transition to illegality

Interviews with 73 early-exiters

  • Questions focused on childhood, adolescent and adult experiences

Differing modes of incorporation and contexts pre-transition contexts shape diverging paths

types of respondents

Troubled pasts or delays in educational trajectories

  • Increased family responsibilities
  • Average students lacking key access to school resources
Types of respondents
troubled pasts

Already on a downward trajectory

    • Trouble with the law
    • Early childbearing
  • Oppositional attitudes towards work
  • Lack of work experience
Troubled pasts
troubled pasts1

At first I thought, "I'm not gonna bust my ass for someone who can be yelling at me for like $5.75, $5 bucks an hour.” Hell no. If I get a job, I wanna get paid $20 bucks an hour. I speak English. I do good. But actually I didn’t have any experience, and I decided to start selling drugs because I thought, this is easy. I got my own schedule, I can do whatever the hell I want to the whole day, I can scream at them, nobody is gonna scream at me. Nobody is gonna do nothing to me because I am the one in control. –Josue

Yeah it’s hard, especially now because they are looking for experience, not so much an educational background. They’re looking for a more experienced person who knows how to work in the field. –Dora

Troubled pasts
early family responsibilities

Compelled to join the workforce to help out with monthly family expenses

  • Respondents’ families unable to provide any financial support for post-secondary activities
  • Early absorption into low-wage shadowed workforces
Early Family responsibilities
early family responsibilities1

I started working at 14. My mom and sisters have a cleaning business. We do mostly businesses and houses in rich areas. I started out part-time, but it wasn’t enough. My family needed me to work more, you know, longer hours. –Flor

  • I just stopped letting it define me. Work is only part of my life. I’ve got a girlfriend now. We have our own place. I’m part of a dance circle, and it’s really cool. Obviously, my situation holds me back from doing a lot of things, but I’ve got to live my life. I just get sick of being controlled by the lack of nine digits. –Gabriel
Early Family responsibilities
lacking key school resources

Not able to develop positive relationships with school personnel that might provide access to important resources

  • Exclusion from financial aid
  • Unable to afford post-secondary tuition
  • Living lives of limbo
Lacking key school resources
lacking key school resources1

I didn’t know anything about my rights. Maybe if I knew the information I could have gotten a scholarship or something. That’s why I didn’t go. I don’t know if my counselors knew, but they never told me anything. –Karina

  • I don’t know what to do. I’ve been waiting for three years.


  • Let’s say there’s a job I’ve been offered. If I get it, I have to buy fake papers. If I get caught with fake papers, that’s a federal offense so I’ll be screwed. I’m closer than I’ve ever been on getting my papers. I don’t want to mess it up with something like that so I can’t get it later on. –Sergio
Lacking key school resources

While respondents grow up hoping for lives better than those of their parents, many found themselves with the same set of restrictions and limited options.

  • Circumstances of undocumented 1.5 generation youngsters are more complicated than downward scenarios predict, and yield a diverse set of outcomes
    • Some reject immigrant jobs
    • Others enter work through family connections
    • And a significant portion ends up without the resources to continue school
  • Context of entry into illegality matters