Methods: Employing the qualitative method of narrative inquiry, this paper draws on semi-structured interviews with 40 Mexican and Central American undocumented young adults (ages 18 to 35) who immigrated in adolescence (ages 13 to 17). I focus on a subsample of 19 participants who arrived prior to the age of 16—the cutoff for DACA eligibility. The participant’s mean age-at-arrival was 14 and 28 was the mean age-at-the interview. Participants consisted of 12 males and 7 females. Interview data were thematically analyzed in ATLAS.ti for patterns in their experiences and responses to DACA changes. Nine of the participants were interviewed once and 10 twice. First interviews were conducted between September 2016 and June 2017 and second interviews between October 2017 and May 2018. Participants were recruited via personal, professional, and organizational networks.
Results: Heightened uncertainty created challenges and distress across participants. Nonetheless, educational attainment and parental status intersected to shape their experiences. Participants who due to limited resources and educational opportunities never accessed DACA struggled with the cumulative impact of stifled dreams and lamented the door closing to new applicants. DACA beneficiaries who were shut out of postsecondary education feared losing the economic ground gained—including access to higher-wage employment, home ownership, and tax benefits—and dreaded returning to a life without DACA. DACA recipients who graduated college also feared losing the economic mobility accessed but expressed confidence in their ability to locate opportunities and adapt. Across all levels of educational attainment, parents were the most distressed as they worried about their children’s future and well-being if DACA ended.
Conclusion & Implications: The benefits of DACA were unequally accessed and shaped how policy shifts were experienced and navigated. Participants’ experiences across multiple forms of marginalization illustrate that immigration policies result in multiple lived realities. Much of the knowledge and advocacy surrounding DACA, however, has focused on college-going youth. Solutions based solely on college educated DACA recipients will end up falling short of addressing the needs of young people shut out of educational opportunities or who are parents. Ultimately, advocacy and practice must consider how intersecting systems of oppression create layered impacts.