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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 March 2019


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.

© 2019 American Bar Foundation 

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The authors thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments. We also appreciate the support provided by our study participants, community research partners, Undocumented Student Equity Project collaborators (Dr. Edelina Burciaga, Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza, Miroslava Guzman Perez, and Dr. Zulema Valdez) and research assistants (Tadria Cardenas, Yareli Castro, Vanessa Delgado, Maria Mireles, and Estela Ramirez Ramirez).

Funding was provided by the John Randolph and Dora Haynes Foundation, UC Irvine Office of Inclusive Excellence, UC Irvine School of Social Sciences, UC Irvine Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, University of California Consortium on Social Science and Law, University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States, and the University of California Office of the President. IRB approval was provided by the University of California, Irvine.



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