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Research Summary

This project investigates the social and emotional well-being of undocumented young adults. More than 2.1 million undocumented young adults have been living in the United States since childhood. Their status is associated with developmental, economic, and social inequalities that shape all aspects of their lives, including employment, mobility, and educational opportunities. This study contributes theoretical innovations to what we know about immigrant incorporation, most notably through the notion of young adults’ confidence in the dependability of the surrounding social and material environments in which they go about their lives. The project expands understandings of mechanisms that enhance well-being among young immigrants that will allow the scientific community to identify the approaches, programs, groups, and individuals that foster positive coping skills in this population. In this regard, this research advances the health and welfare of marginalized subgroups living in the United States. This study provides a knowledge base to guide the development of future scholarly work in this field and interventions to address the needs of the undocumented youth population. Moreover, this research directly enhances the participation and professional and academic development of historically underrepresented groups in research, adding to the diversity of social science professionals. This project also enhances graduate education by training and incorporating students into the research process. Students have opportunities to learn the project’s methodological approaches and participate in the analysis of collected data.

This study proposes that the social and emotional well-being of undocumented young adult immigrants is  linked to the confidence in the constancy of one’s social and material environments of action, especially as they learn about and fully grasp the implications of their legal status. The research expands on preliminary findings from pilot studies on this population to relate patterns in their social and emotional well-being to different trajectories into the workforce, higher education, and family formation–all of which comprise the transition to adulthood. The study collects 120 in-depth interviews and data related to participants’ neighborhoods and schools in four distinct types of communities. Data analysis considers how the conditions under which participants migrated and the socio-economic and demographic contexts in which they grew up and they currently live in the U.S. shape their well-being and other social, educational, and economical outcomes. The project provides new insights on the roles of individual, family, and neighborhood-related factors that exacerbate or mitigate social and emotional well-being among this population.

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