Abstract: The Growing Significance of Place: Assessing the Diverging Trajectories of Daca-Eligible Young Adults in the New South (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

The Growing Significance of Place: Assessing the Diverging Trajectories of Daca-Eligible Young Adults in the New South

Saturday, January 13, 2018: 4:00 PM
Mint (ML 4) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Roberto G. Gonzales, PhD, Assistant Professor, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Benjamin Roth, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Kristina Brant, Doctoral Student, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Background and Purpose

The situation of many undocumented young people changed on June 15, 2012, when President Obama introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—an enforcement policy that temporarily defers deportation for eligible undocumented youth and young adults. By June of 2016, nearly four years into the program, more than 740,000 young people of an estimated 1.9 million who were eligible for the program had obtained DACA status along with temporary Social Security numbers and two-year renewable employment authorization permits.

This paper draws on data from a larger study of DACA-eligible young adults to understand the experiences of DACA beneficiaries in Georgia and South Carolina. With a combined total of over 35,000 DACA holders, these two states have some of the most restrictive state-level immigration policies in the nation. As such, they offer a window through which to view place-based mechanisms that produce distinct and diverging trajectories among undocumented youth.


Our analysis stems from in-depth, semi-structured interviews collected between March 2015 and January 2016. In total, we interviewed 481 DACA-eligible undocumented and DACAmented immigrant young adults in California, Arizona, Illinois, New York, Georgia, and South Carolina. We sampled respondents based on DACA eligibility, recruting through various national and local gateway organizations. Interviews ranged in length between 75 minutes to three and a half hours, and focused on respondents’ experience with DACA, as well as their experiences in school, their communities, and the broader a range of experiences, including schooling. We developed a codebook of 54 etic codes and applied them to transcribed interviews. For the purposes of this paper, we focus on 125 young adults from South Carolina and Georgia.


Particularly for undocumented young people, where one resides within the United States dramatically shapes a multitude of experiences based on local impediments and opportunities. Due to state, county, and municipal level policies, one’s zip code can mean the difference between incorporation and exclusion. We find that distinct and interlocking issues related to place—underdeveloped and inadequate social service and educational infrastructures, isolation, discrimination, and racial and ethnic segregation—can further constrain mobility.

Conclusions and Implications

DACAmented young people face different combinations of opportunities and barriers depending on the state where they live, and on local community and school contexts. In one state they might have access to in-state tuition, state scholarships, and the ability to obtain a license to get a job in the profession for which they have been educated. The same DACA beneficiary in a more restrictive state may not have access to any of these resources or opportunities. We conclude with a framework for understanding the role of place in shaping adaptation for DACAmented and undocumented young adults in new destinations based on three factors: (1) state or local policies, (2) local configurations of support, and (3) the developed environment. We discuss policy and practice implications which are guided by this framework.