Land of Opportunity: School Incorporation of Undocumented Latina/o High School Students
Karina Chavarria

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of California

Primary Discipline

While education attainment is a key predictor of social mobility, undocumented immigrant students face blocked social mobility due to their immigration status; despite this, they are better served to pursue education than not to do so. Research demonstrates that undocumented students encounter various obstacles while attending K-12 schools, such as limited school resources, structural inequalities, and negative educational stereotypes (Gonzales 2011; Tierney and Venegas, 2006). Yet, scant research has investigated how Latina/o students’ undocumented immigrant status shapes their school incorporation (day-to-day participation in programs and interactions with school personnel). This dissertation begins to address this gap by employing in-depth interviews and school ethnography to investigate three dimensions of undocumented Latina/o students’ high school life: 1) What are the school incorporation experiences (academic/non- academic program participation and teacher/student and peer-to-peer interactions) among undocumented Latina/o students? 2) How does school incorporation influence students’ access to and use of social capital (manifested as social ties, college-going information, resources for immigration matters)? 3) What are undocumented students’ post-high¬school paths? This study’s findings contribute to advancing equitable educational opportunities via educational policy. At the level of policy, meeting the academic and social needs of undocumented immigrant students requires that K-12 teachers/counselors become knowledgeable on the difficulties these students. Based on preliminary findings, some of the difficulties students face include establishing trusting relationships with school personnel, obtaining college related information in a timely manner, and finding the guidance to successfully transition from undocumented youth to undocumented young adults. In training the adults (teachers/counselors) who interact daily with students, schools can be supportive resource spaces fostering undocumented students’ successful transition into young adults.
About Karina Chavarria
Karina Chavarria is a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology at UC Los Angeles. Her research bridges areas of immigration, education, race and ethnicity. She currently focuses on the social and academic experiences of Latina/o undocumented youth. Her research is deeply rooted in a passion for and commitment to education, specifically equality of educational opportunities. Karina’s dedication to educational equity is grounded in her experiences working with minority students across the cities of Los Angeles, Dallas, and Chicago. She holds an M.A. in Social Science from the University of Chicago and B.A.s in Sociology and English from the University of California, Berkeley.

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