A sizable body of sociological research has established legal status as a critical axis of stratification in American society. At the same time, immigration scholars have cautioned against viewing legal status as a dichotomy and advocated for a perspective that treats legal status as a continuum that ranges from statuses that fully exclude individuals from legal rights to statuses that confer nearly the same rights as native-born citizens. Yet despite this recognition, there exists crucial gaps in our understanding regarding how the continuum of legal statuses are constructed and maintained, the factors that further stratify opportunities within the undocumented population and how targeted individuals and communities understand and experience an increasing complex and arbitrary set of immigration laws and policies that differentially distributes rights and opportunities by national origin, mode of entry and race. This study is based on analysis of over 100 interviews with undocumented youth in NYC conducted in 2018 and 2019.
Our sample of undocumented youth reflects the diversity of the undocumented population in New York City and includes two of the fastest growing undocumented immigrant groups to the United States, Central Americans and Asians. We theorize how immigration laws and policies create and maintain the continuum of legal statuses and show how the complex and arbitrary nature of immigration policies complicate the lived experiences of targeted individuals and stratify education and work trajectories as well as collective formation and resistance.