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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Joya Misra

Second Advisor

Enobong Hannah Branch

Third Advisor

Miliann Kang

Fourth Advisor

Leah Schmalzbauer

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Contemporary immigration policies that sacrifice family cohesion in favor of punitive enforcement approaches have contributed to record-breaking rates of immigrant deportations in recent years. As a result, mixed-status families grapple with the reality or possibility of a loved one’s detention and deportation, as well as the various everyday limitations of illegality. Mixed-status families include members with different immigration statuses and are often characterized by one or two undocumented parents and at least one U.S. citizen child. Conceptualizing citizenship as not only a legal category, but also a social category that is continually contested, this dissertation asks: how do non-citizens and citizens in mixed-status families articulate and experience belonging in the U.S.? To address this question, I conducted interviews with 67 Latinos in primarily Mexican American mixed-status families in Los Angeles. I also performed participant observation at various immigrant- and Latino- centered spaces in the greater Los Angeles area and within the homes of mixed-status families. I argue that citizenship is a complicated and negotiated ideal for Latinos in mixed-status families who must manage familial illegality, and their racialized experiences in Los Angeles. For undocumented parents, the question of belonging implicates their role in whether children can physically remain in the U.S., if they themselves are deported. For citizen youth who have the legal right to belong in the U.S., their citizenship privilege is experienced as a responsibility to their families and a barrier to their own mobility. Belonging is also experienced at the local level. I show the clear limitations of social citizenship when Mexican Americans navigate racially segregated Los Angeles and are read as unwelcomed foreigners. Ultimately, family and place shape belonging for Latinos in mixed-status families, while they also manage and try to mitigate the challenges of illegality.