Navigating Liminal Legalities along Pathways to Citizenship: Immigrant Vulnerability and the Role of Mediating Institutions

Awarded Scholars:
Susan Coutin, University of California, Irvine
Sameer Ashar, University of California, Irvine
Jennifer Chacón, University of California, Irvine
Stephen Lee, University of California, Irvine
Project Date:
Mar 2014
Award Amount:
Project Programs:

The current developments in U.S. immigration law and policy, including the recent Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, provide a unique context in which to explore: how variations in legal status affect a noncitizen’s well-being, access to services and government benefits, self-definition and relationship to the state; the legal and bureaucratic processes through which access to status is provided; and the role of various community organizations that influence and broker the relationship between migrants and the state. An understanding of the material and emotional effects of legalization, including the consequences of differential access to services on legalization patterns, requires data on immigrants prior to immigration reform. And even if no changes are made to existing immigration law, the data that will be gathered for this project are relevant for DACA.

Anthropologist Susan Bibler Coutin, and legal experts Jennifer Chacón, Stephen Lee, and Sameer Ashar, will examine (1) the consequences of the proliferation of interim legal statuses for noncitizens in the U.S.; (2) the effects that discretion in immigration enforcement have on migrants’ ability to attain legal status; and (3) the success of brokering institutions in mediating the relationship between migrants and the state. The researchers will analyze the ways that immigrants’ abilities to legalize are associated with poverty, gender, national origin, immigration histories, criminal convictions and past removal orders. They will study two communities: the Pico-Union area of Los Angeles, which has a well-developed network of immigrant-serving community organizations, and Anaheim in Orange County, an area with a poorly developed network. To better understand the role of brokering organizations in shaping access to citizenship, Coutin and her colleagues will map immigration-related services available in these communities, and explore the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of the two communities to identify any salient differences that might account for differential eligibility for, and access to paths toward, legalization. They will identify community organizations, immigrant families, and individuals, and follow their experiences as they navigate toward legal status.


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