Lecture brings realities of undocumented youth to light
Sociologist and Harvard Graduate School of Education assistant professor Roberto Gonzales visited campus for a lecture and discussion of his new book “Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America” Tuesday night.
His book is based on the culmination of a 12-year ethnographic research study. Gonzales details the lives of undocumented youth in Los Angeles and how they were shaped by their lack of legal status.
His research started with his dissertation for his doctorate at University of California – Irvine, but Gonzales said he was unsure where it would take him.
“I made close rapport with my respondents, and nothing in our immigration policy was changing,” Gonzales said. “It only made sense to keep following them and keep checking in on how they were doing and how their lives had changed.”
The lecture was part of the George Sanchez lecture series and was held at the Law Center’s Hendricks Heritage Room. A discussion and book signing followed the lecture.
Center for Mexican American Studies director and professor of sociology Pamela Anne Quiroz said Gonzalez’s lecture was an important discussion to have at this point in history.
“His work speaks to the impact of our immigration policies on the lives of these youth and poignantly describes how they learn to be illegal in our society,” Quiroz said.
As a former youth worker and community organizer in a predominantly immigrant community in Chicago, Gonzalez found inspiration for his research when he noticed a trend in which the younger community members where hitting dead ends.
Gonzales saw the same trends in the young adults he met in Los Angeles during his graduate program and wanted to further explore how the same processes played out over time.
His study was designed to understand the differences between the very high achievers, modest achievers that he calls “college goers” and the “early exiters” who didn’t do well in school.
Gonzales addressed how over time the pool of college goers began to shrink while the early exiters grew, entering the same low-end jobs as the ones held by their parents.
“Several of my respondents started college and then got burdened by their inability to receive financial aid, a burden of debt and responsibilities of home,” Gonzales said. “Over time many of them end up getting funneled into the workforce.”
Gonzales also addressed the flaws of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that passed in 2012 and allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country before June 2007 to be exempt from deportation.
Esperanza, one of his respondents, graduated from a prestigious university in California and benefits from DACA at 31, just making the age cutoff, but is unable to get a job she is qualified for because of her thinned out resume.
“Young people like her who have experienced several years with an undocumented status has been very different from those who have gotten DACA as (high school students who) have been able to make transitions,” Gonzales said.
Media production sophomore Janeth Perez said she was moved by the lecture.
“The stories had an impact on me,” Perez said. “It’s unfair that (the college goers) are unable to use their degrees.”