To Reveal or Conceal: How Diverse Undocumented Youth Navigate Legal Status Disclosure

Caitlin Patler
Published in
Sociological Perspectives

Existing literature illuminates the multiple barriers young undocumented immigrants face, yet we know little about how these challenges vary among undocumented youth. This article explores variation in how undocumented youth “manage” their legal status in the educational context. Drawing on interviews with Latina/o, Asian American and Pacific Islander (API), and black undocumented young adults in California, I analyze the factors influencing when and how youth decide to reveal or conceal legal status from school personnel or peers, and the educational consequences of such decisions.

I find undocumented students’ decisions to hide legal status, while practical, can constrain social network formation and limit access to academic resources. However, decisions to reveal or conceal legal status are not made uniformly but vary by political and social context, and access to support within co-ethnic social networks. Finally, knowing other undocumented immigrants is an important resource for undocumented youth as they navigate the educational system.