Experiences of Exploitation, Poverty, and Marginality among Unaccompanied Migrant Youth

I am approaching my two year anniversary of beginning my research with Central American youth and young-adults who arrived as unaccompanied minors. Each day they thank me for my time and attention and have given me nicknames like “teacher”, “hermana”, and “Chep” (Maya K’iche for Stephanie). They smile shyly when I tell them that they are my teachers and I would not have made it this far in grad school if it were not for them. Not only because, well… they are my research participants, but because they teach me about perseverance, hope, dreaming big dreams, and finding happiness in moments of sinceridad (sincerity).

Below is the product of my time as a UC Davis Center for Poverty Research visiting scholar. A small glimpse into the lives of those unaccompanied minors who make it beyond the border and begin living and working in Los Angeles. Please share this and join me in making this experience known.


Press Conference and Rally

Human Rights Alliance for Child Refugees and Families

From Facebook Event (link below):

Central Americans and Allies call on President Obama to Rescind his call to Fastrack-Deportation of Minors and to Divert $2 billion away from Militarizing the Border

In response to the current humanitarian crisis evidenced by the unprecedented number of Central American child migrants seeking refuge in the United States,Southern California based organizations will protest President Obama’s harmful policies towards refugee children on Monday, July 7 at 12:30pm at the Downtown Los Angeles Federal Building.

As U.S. citizens, residents, concerned civilians, organizations, community, legal experts, and families of the detained and deported, we have a moral and legal responsibility to demand that the United States government halt traumatizing and further damaging the already scarred lives of these child migrants. We demand that the children be reunited with their families, that deportations stop, and that we take humanitarian –rather than ruthless– steps towards solving this humanitarian crisis.

WHO: Human Rights Alliance for Child Refugees and Families includes local organizations, families, and legal experts concerned with the treatment and rights of Central American child migrants

WHERE: Downtown LA Federal Building
300 North Los Angeles Street Los Angeles, CA 90012


WHEN: Monday, July 7, 2014. 12:00 PM



For more info: https://www.facebook.com/events/1449866621947764/

TPS holders deemed inspected and admitted

Excerpt, page 6:

“However, the Ninth Circuit’s holding that enrollment in the Family Unity Program (FUP) constituted an “admission” within the meaning of the INA can be applied to the present case. See Garcia-Quintero v. Gonzalez, 455 F.3d 1006 (9th Cir. 2006). In that case, the court reasoned that although the plaintiff’s “enrollment into the FUP did not literally comport with the INA’s definition of ‘admitted,’ both this court and the BIA, in precedential decisions, have not limited the scope of ‘admitted’ to this strict definition.” Id. at 1015. Plaintiffs correctly argue that this reasoning applies to the current case because a TPS beneficiary similarly undergoes a process that specifically requires inadmissibility to be waived and is expressly accorded lawful status during the time that TPS status is in effect.”


Click to access 35_Order%20granting%20Pl%20summary%20jdmt.pdf

USC Tomas Rivera Policy Institute: The Latino Middle Class

Earlier this year, Dr. Jody Agius Vallejo and I were asked to develop a microsite (read: resource page) for USC’s Tomas Rivera Policy Institute. Building on Jody Vallejo’s work centered on the Mexican-American middle class, the research highlighted on this site examines middle-class Mexican Americans and elite Latino entrepreneurs. We address important questions concerning immigrant socioeconomic mobility and assimilation.

Immigrants and their children are the future of American society and this research helps to contradict the one-dimensional and damaging images of poor, unauthorized, and unassimilable Latinos that are reinforced by media, pundits, and politicians.

For more on the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, click here.

Reaction: News Article

The article entitled ‘Supporters of Same-Sex Marriage Join Backers of In-State Tuition for Illegal Immigrants in Maryland’ speaks to the formation of a recent alliance between same-sex marriage supporters and undocumented (student) youth in the state of Maryland. The Associated Press reporter interviews policy makers, organization directors, and undocuqueer youth to delineate the collaboration of Equality Maryland and Casa de Maryland as one founded on ‘personal responsibility.’  The article quotes Senator Richard Madaleno as saying, “It’s about hope, dignity and opportunity and personal responsibility, because an education is about your ability to go out and get that education. No one gives it to you. You have to earn that diploma. Marriage is about personal responsibility. These are potentially the two most important aspects of someone’s life.”

On the one hand, I completely understand the pairing of these two organizations as two of the most politically contentious and socially marginalized groups; yet the rendition of why this pairing is occurring in this case is weak. First, what does ‘personal responsibility’ mean? In the case of the access to education of undocumented youth it seems to mean that the excluded student is personally responsible for acquiring a degree. Is that the same personal responsibility for same-sex couples? If I understand one of the major platforms of same-sex marriage advocates, personal responsibility in the latter case is arguing that people have the individual choice and it is, in layman terms, their business who they do or do not choose to love and/or marry.

Secondly, to not mention the activity and mobility in the immigrant rights movement, particularly the immigrant youth/student movement, is to undermine, if not negate, the true motive and power behind the alliance. Prior to Obama’s Executive Order outlining the plan for Deferred Action on June 15th, 2012, the US had not seen any alterations to immigration policy since 1986. Over twenty-years passed before any relief was given to immigrant communities. Moreover, it was not solely for immigrants but immigrant youth specifically. To say that the success of immigrant youth organizers in achieving some policy enactment, despite how temporary it may be (Deferred Action expires after 2 years and requires renewal), does intentionally or unintentionally not play into the alliance formation is misled.

This is not to say that I am opposed to the intersectionality between sexuality and immigration status. Nor am I opposed to organizations of any sort forming bonds of solidarity. In fact, I believe organizational and population isolation is a detriment of many grassroots movements (including the complete success of the feminist movement). I do, however, believe credit should be given where credit is due. The immigrant youth movement is quickly mobilizing and so much of that comes from the dire needs of the community and the blatant experiences of marginalization, exclusion, and racism. Why not openly recognize that fact and develop transparent community partnerships? Finally, yes, there are undocumented queer youth and young adults; but neither identity should be tokenized in the struggle of the other. Perhaps this is just me nit-picking, but it’s worth noting if we are truly moving toward a state of social equality.


Funny or Die: Self Deportation Station


At first I was unsure whether I should be offended or amused by this video. Despite thinking the lived reality of this comical video is not humorous (i.e. Mitt Romney’s belief that Arizona’s racist laws are a ‘model for the country’ in that they would make living conditions in the US without documentation so difficult that people would self-deport), it does highlight the ridiculousness of the policies implemented in the US’ favorite state.

Reflection: Community Event

I think it would be nearly impossible for me to study what I do in the city that I do and not be engaged in the immigrant rights movement. Los Angeles has the greatest density of immigrants in the U.S., primarily Latino immigrants. I have chosen to serve my community alongside the members of DREAM Team LA (dreamteamla.org), which is an immigrant rights organization affiliated with United We Dream (unitedwedream.org).

Yesterday, August 25th, was the United We Dream National DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Day. Free legal clinics and educational forums were hosted in various locations across the nation for those who qualify for Deferred Action. Dream Team LA hosted the Los Angeles DACA Day at the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex. I volunteered to be Volunteer Coordinator, which was one of only 5 coordinator roles. We spent the week prior to the event planning and organizing from 8am to sometimes 1 or 2am planning the event. We did everything from phone banking and Costco runs, to volunteer and lawyer training and applicant pre-screenings.

We anticipated over 2,000 people, and though we have not calculated the final count I am almost certain we saw over 3,000 and served over 1,000 applicants. I believe we also saw over 200 volunteers. I have yet to get over the fatigue and exhaustion from the event, but these physical effects are secondary to the overwhelming pride, humility, empowerment, joy and love I feel for my community and all those who chose to spend even just a few hours supporting those who have been living in the shadows for so long.

Having spent over 40 hours planning and coordinating the Los Angeles DACA Day I learned that there are many people willing to come forward to acknowledge their undocumented status, and still so many more than are fearful of what will happen when they do (primarily in light of the upcoming election). To those folks I suggest considering two things: 1) It would be much harder to strip the rights of 1.4 million people, than 1,000 people. The more people step forward now, the less likely it is that a future president will rescind this executive order. 2) Fear leads to nothing more than silence. The only way we can change the system, the only way we can overcome that fear is by mobilizing. Through movement building we can see comprehensive immigration reform. The chants “Undocumented and Unafraid!” from youth at the application drive yesterday should echo throughout the nation. I could provide more reasons, but an article I read in the Huffington Post does a very nice job of hitting some key points, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rep-luis-gutierrez/ten-reasons-young-people_b_1775552.html.

This is only the beginning, there are 1.4 million children and young adults who meet the eligibility for Deferred Action, 1.4 million children and young adults who can openly apply for jobs, attend colleges and universities, and infuse our economy in countless ways. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that these 1.4 million are only 12% of the total undocumented population (11.2 million) living in the United States. Despite the positive move that is recognizing the very existing of human beings in our nation, Deferred Action is far too exclusive to be deemed a favor for the immigrant community. Further, it is all too similar to Temporary Protected Status, which is a temporary (18 mo.) residency permit for Central Americans effected by the civil wars which plagued the region in the late 1970s and early 1980s, that has proved to leave many people in a convoluted legal limbo that is more frequently leading people to detention and deportation than ever before. Like I said earlier, we need to build this movement– strengthen our conviction, organize our communities and see a true and just change in our society. El pueblo unido…

Reaction: Research Report

“Contested Ground: Immigration in the United States” by Michael Jones-Correa

In a recent publication from the Immigration Policy Institute (July 2012), Michael Jones-Correa of Cornell University discusses the assumed and actual demographic landscape and changing nature of immigration flows. He notes four trends in immigration from the 1970s to 2010: 1) increase in number of immigrants, 2) shift in the country of origin of immigrants to the US (from Europe in the 1970s to primarily Asian and Latin American countries by the 2000s), 3) an increasing proportion of undocumented immigration, and 4) a dispersal of immigrant to new destinations (including North Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Nebraska and Tennessee).

 Much of media and public information supports the idea that the contemporary immigrant is Mexican. Not only that, but that these immigrants are undocumented. The construction of ‘illegality,’ as Nicholas de Genova describes, is built on the idea of temporality, disposability of labor, and deportability of bodies– only enforced by what Leo Chavez terms the ‘spectacle of the border.’ Resultantly, Mexicans are characterized as illegals, and illegality is racialized as a Latino problem. Contrary to popular knowledge, not all Latinos are Mexican, not all Latino immigration is unauthorized, and not all unauthorized immigration stems from the Latin American countries.

Though a great majority of immigration has primarily come from Mexico, Jones-Correa reiterates the findings of David Fitzgerald from UC San Diego who attributes much of the Mexican migration decline into the United States to the economic instability in the U.S. and increase in economic stability in the country of origin. Along with the belief that immigration is a Latino trend, many are also under the impression that immigrants pose a threat to national unity and are a detriment to our success in the international market. Jones-Correa (2012) states,

“… [O]ne recent study indicates that there is no proof that immigrants crowd out US-born workers in the short or long run, and that over the long run immigration actually increases income per worker. The study found that immigration to the United States from 1990 to 2007 was associated with 6.6 to 9.9 percent increase in real income per worker. Similarly, there is evidence that higher proportions of the foreign born and new immigrants appear to decrease, not increase, robbery and homicide rates. Countering concerns that English will be taken over by Spanish, all the data on language acquisition indicates that immigrants and their children learn English, and, indeed, that within a single generation the children of immigrants use English as their primary and often only language” (7).

I know it seems as if these are broad generalizations, especially given that there are no direct citations provided. However, study after study finds that these statements are true. As a sociologist, I found this report to be interesting for various reasons. The shift in migrants’ country of origin is nothing new to scholarship (In fact, I think almost every article/book I’ve read on the topic starts off by noting this shift). The four trends the author notes should not really come as a surprise to those who follow immigration trends, policies or movements. As a graduate student seeking to engage in conversations of immigrant integration and notions of identity formation, emplacement and belonging (concepts I recently gained a new perspective on thanks to Beyond the Borderlands by Debra Lattanzi Shutika), I am struck by implications of the conjunction of the findings. The following statement primarily intrigues me,

“… much contemporary policy ignores the fact that the demographic changes taking place across the United States today are driven as much or more by the children of immigrants as by immigrants themselves” (Jones-Correa 2012, 14).

Thinking in terms of the four noted trends, primarily the increase in destinations, coupled with the reality that children of immigrants are going to have a greater long term impact on our social demography than immigrants themselves, I believe it is critical that scholars and community leaders continue to shift their focus onto matters of the youth and young-adult generation. Transitions into adulthood is a topic touched on in many fields (sociology, psychology, social work, anthropology, etc.); transitions into adulthood when race, class, and cultural diversity are present and at the forefront in new geographic destinations that have not developed networks and support centers in the way traditional immigrant destinations have will surely complicate lived realities (does that make sense?). This, to me, was the most compelling contribution of this IPC Report. Just last week I read a news article stating that more Central American children and youth are entering the United States unaccompanied by adults. The following report also highlights trends of immigrant children and children of immigrants (http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org/?q=node/333). On the one hand we have an increasing number of immigrants, from increasingly diverse places of origin, arriving in new immigrant destinations. All of this is happening in a time where we have a greater number of immigrant children and  youth and children of immigrants to account for. How will these communities look without an immigrant social structure? How will the youth come of age in a global, yet socially restricted society? (Perhaps these questions are answered by the research contributions of Robert Courtney Smith and Debra Lattanzi Shutika)

This is not to say that the study of the immigrant generation is no longer vital to scholarship or general matters of knowledge and discussion. I’m simply suggesting that that there is a need to think in terms of the younger immigrant generations and the ways in which the intersection of the noted immigration trends politically, socially, economically, culturally affect the coming of age of these young people and the progression of our nation.

If there are approximately 5 million undocumented children and young adults in the U.S., why aren’t we urgently seeking long-term solutions to their full integration into our society? Furthermore, if 24% (or 1.1 million) of these undocumented folks are living in the state of California alone, shouldn’t we be more fervently fighting the fight of social justice, inclusion, incorporation, and belonging? Jones-Correa concludes, “For all the public handwringing about immigration’s impact on American culture and society, there is a curious absence of creative public policy framing a constructive response” (2012, 15). The initiation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals tomorrow, August 15th, is only a limited and temporary to solution to the youth and young-adult question. I look forward to seeing how this policy changes the lives of those to whom is directly and indirectly applies (no pun intended).