Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Philip Kretsedemas

Second Advisor

Sarah Mayorga-Gallo

Third Advisor

Roberto G. Gonzales


There are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. More than 2 million arrived as children or youth without legal authorization. While states cannot deny undocumented students access to public K-12 education, there are no federal provisions to grant undocumented students affordable access to higher education. In states without tuition equity policies, like North Carolina and Massachusetts, undocumented students face prohibitive tuition costs and are treated as out-of-state residents or international students. Their ineligibility for federal and state financial aid is a direct result of their immigration status and is one of the main obstacles for undocumented students who want to go to college. Although the literature on undocumented college-goers has grown in the last decade, much remains unknown about the role of local context when it comes to the educational trajectories of undocumented students. Through 37 semi-structured, in-depth interviews with undocumented Latinx college-goers in Boston, Massachusetts, and in The Piedmont Triad and Research Triangle, North Carolina, I explore how undocumented Latinx youth living in states with distinct immigration histories, policies, and practices pursue higher education and navigate the college application process. An analysis of these interviews offers a comprehensive look at how undocumented students, even those who benefited from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), internalize local practices of immigration enforcement, and how these experiences, along with the support students receive from family, and their experiences with institutional agents shape the way undocumented students approach and navigate the college application process. In four substantive chapters, this dissertation demonstrates (1) how undocumented students make the decision to go to college, (2) the systems of support on which undocumented students rely throughout their educational trajectories, (3) the mechanisms they put in place to secure access to college, and (4) how the context of migration shapes their educational trajectories. The findings have important implications for undocumented students’ educational inclusion, shed light on undocumented students’ motivations to pursue higher education, and illustrate how undocumented students frame their own place-based narratives about illegality in relation to their experiences in education.


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