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

Sameer Ashar, University of California, Irvine
Edelina M. Burciaga, University of California, Irvine
Jennifer Chacón, University of California, Irvine
Susan Coutin, University of California, Irvine
Alma Nidia Garza, University of California, Irvine
Stephen Lee, University of California, Irvine
Publication Date:
Jan 2015
Project Programs:
Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration

This report summarizes the findings of research funded by the Russell Sage Foundation and conducted by scholars at the University of California, Irvine over the course of eighteen months between January 2014 and September 2015. This time period coincided with the announcement of—and subsequent legal challenges to—two immigration-related “Executive Relief” programs, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA). While DACA and DAPA would have allowed qualifying noncitizens to avoid deportation and receive federal work authorization starting in 2015, legal challenges prevented them from taking effect, leaving eligible undocumented immigrants in legal limbo.

Drawing from 16 in-depth interviews with staff of 10 different immigrant serving organizations and 47 interviews with noncitizens in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas, the authors investigated the on-the-ground challenges facing noncitizens and community based organizations as the scope and availability of Executive Relief was debated. Their report explores the hardships and barriers that liminal legal status poses to immigrant incorporation, the challenges faced by organizations mediating between their constituents and the state in periods of legal uncertainty, and the ways that this uncertainty has reshaped the social, political and legal environment in which immigrant-serving organizations and their constituents interact.


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


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