Negotiating identity development among undocumented immigrant students

Lauren Marie Ellis, Fordham University


This purpose of this qualitative dissertation study was to capture the meaning and various dimensions related to being an undocumented immigrant youth in the United States, and to develop a grounded theory regarding how undocumented immigrant students negotiate their identity development in light of these dimensions. A semi-structured interview protocol was created to elucidate how undocumented immigrants attribute meaning to their experience. All eleven participants would be eligible to have their legal status adjusted in accordance with the criteria of the DREAM Act. Each participant completed an audio-taped interview with the researcher, and all interviews were transcribed. Data analysis was iterative and was conducted according to grounded theory methodology. Four major themes emerged from the data: 1) "Sewn with two threads," delineating the ways in which participants are largely a product of their bicultural experiences; 2) Enhancement of positive attributes through addressing documentation struggles, reflecting the opportunities for growth and enrichment as a result of experiences and even struggles in the United States; 3) "Border as Mirror," a metaphor addressing the ways in which documentation status impacts one's perception of oneself and the world positively as well as negatively; and 4) Identity formation as an ongoing negotiation, capturing the long-term shifts in understanding of status implications and emotional response to this understanding as well as the short term fluctuations of emotional response that continue to occur. In addition to providing educators with the knowledge that post-secondary education is a possibility for many undocumented immigrant youth, the findings of this study suggest that practitioners can do a great deal to empower and educate the undocumented immigrant youth that they work with.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|School counseling|Developmental psychology|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Ellis, Lauren Marie, "Negotiating identity development among undocumented immigrant students" (2010). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3407470.