Roberto G. Gonzales

R. G. Gonzales

Richard Perry University Professor of Sociology and Education

Roberto G. Gonzales is the Richard Perry University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, with appointments in the Department of Sociology and the Graduate School of Education. His research focuses on factors that shape and reduce economic, legal, and social inequalities among vulnerable and hard-to-reach youth populations as they transition to adulthood. Professor Gonzales’s work has been featured in top journals, including the American Sociological Review, Annual Review of Sociology, and Current Anthropology. His published research has been widely cited and has garnered awards from multiple disciplines. He is an active public scholar and has advised a broad range of stakeholders in the private and public sectors, has briefed members of the U.S. Congress, and has testified on matters of immigration policy before the U.S. Senate. He has also written opinion pieces for The New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and The Guardian and is often quoted in the popular media.

At Penn, Professor Gonzales is the founding director of the newly formed Penn Migration Initiative, a university-wide effort aimed at advancing and promoting interdisciplinary scholarship and intellectual exchange around issues of immigration policy and immigrant communities. Prior to his appointment at Penn, Professor Gonzales held faculty positions at Harvard University, the University of Chicago and the University of Washington. His research has been supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the WT Grant Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, and the Heising-Simons Foundation.


Ph.D. (Sociology) University of California Irvine, 2008
M.A. (Sociology) University of California, Irvine, 2004
A.M. (Social Welfare) University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration, 1999
B.A. (Sociology) The Colorado College, 1992

Research Interests

Since 2002 Professor Gonzales has carried out one of the most comprehensive studies of undocumented immigrants in the United States. His landmark book, Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America, is based on an in-depth study that followed 150 undocumented young adults in Los Angeles for twelve years. Lives in Limbo has won eight major book awards, including the C. Wright Mills Award given by the Society for the Study of Social Problems and the American Education Research Association Outstanding Book Award. It has also been selected by a number of universities as a common read text and has been used by several dozen school districts and community institutions to train staff. The book was recently optioned for theatrical production. In addition to Lives in Limbo, Professor Gonzales’s other books include Within and Beyond Citizenship: Borders, Membership, and Belonging, and Undocumented Migration.

In addition, Professor Gonzales’s seven-year longitudinal National UnDACAmented Research Project has surveyed nearly 2,700 undocumented young adults and has carried out 500 in-depth interviews on their experiences following President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He is also collaborating with several colleagues to investigate educator responses to school climate issues stemming from immigration policies.

Selected Publications

Gonzales, Roberto G., and Stephen P. Ruszczyk. 2021. “The Legal Status Divide among the Children of Immigrants, " Dædalus, Issue 150: 135–149.

Gonzales, Roberto G., Kristina Brant, and Benjamin Roth. 2020. “DACAmented in the Age of Deportation: Navigating Spaces of Belonging and Vulnerability in Social and Personal Lives,” Ethnic and Racial Studies, Issue 43: 60-71.

Gonzales, Roberto G., Nando Sigona, Martha C. Franco, and Anna Papoutsi. 2019. Undocumented Migration. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Zhou, Min, and Roberto G. Gonzales. 2019. “Divergent Destinies: Children of Immigrants Growing Up in America,” American Review of Sociology, Issue 45: 1, 383-399.

Ellis, Basia D., Roberto G. Gonzales, and Sarah A. Rendón García. 2019. “The Power of Inclusion: Theorizing “Abjectivity” and Agency under DACA. Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies, Volume 19, Issue 3, 161-172.

Gonzales, Roberto G., Basia Ellis, Sarah Rendon-Garcia, and Kristina Brant. 2018. “(un)Authorized Transitions: Illegality, DACA, and the Life Course,” Research in Human Development, Volume 15, Issue 3-4, 345-359.

Gonzales, Roberto G. and Edelina Burciaga. 2018. "Segmented Pathways of Illegality: Reconciling the Co-existence of Master and Auxiliary Statuses in the Experiences of 1.5 Generation Undocumented Young Adults." Ethnicities, Volume 18: 178-191.

Gonzales, Roberto G., and Nando Sigona. 2017. Within and Beyond Citizenship: Borders, Membership and Belonging. New York: Routledge.

Yoshikawa, Hirokazu, Carola S. Suarez-Orozco, and Roberto G. Gonzales. 2017. “Unauthorized Status and Youth Development in the United States: Consensus Statement of the Society for Research in Adolescence.”  Journal of Research on Adolescence. Volume 27, Issue 1, 4-19.

Gonzales, Roberto G., and Steven Raphael. 2017. “Illegality: A Contemporary Portrait.” Russell Sage Foundation Journal, Volume 3 No 4.

Gonzales, Roberto G. 2016. Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America. Oakland: University of California Press.

Trieu, Monica, Nicholas Vargas, and Roberto G. Gonzales. 2016. “Transnational Patterns among Asian American and Latina/o American Children of Immigrants from Southern California.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Volume 42, Issue 7, 1177-1198.

Gonzales, Roberto G., Luisa L. Heredia, and Genevieve Negron-Gonzales. 2015. “Untangling Plyler’s Legacy: Undocumented Students, Schools, and Citizenship.” Harvard Educational Review, Volume 85 No. 3, 318-341.

Gonzales, Roberto G. 2015. “Imagined Futures: Thoughts on the State of Policy and Research Concerning Undocumented Immigrant Youth and Young Adults.” Harvard Educational Review, Volume 85 No. 3, 518-524.

Roth, Benjamin J., Roberto G. Gonzales, and Jacob Lesniewski. 2015. “Building a Stronger Safety Net: Local Organizations and the Challenges of Serving Immigrants in the Suburbs.” Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership, & Governance, Volume 39, No. 4 348-361.

Patler, Caitlin and Roberto G. Gonzales. 2015. “Framing Citizenship: Media Coverage of Anti-Deportation Cases Led by Undocumented Immigrant Youth Organizations.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Volume 41, No. 9, 1453-1474.

Gonzales, Roberto G., Veronica Terriquez, and Stephen. Ruszzczyk. 2014. “Becoming DACAmented: Assessing the Short-term Benefits of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).” American Behavioral Scientist, Volume 58, No. 14, 1852-1872.

Vaquera, Elizabeth, Elizabeth Aranda, and Roberto G. Gonzales. 2014. Patterns of Incorporation of Latinos in Old and New Destinations: From Invisible to Hypervisible.” American Behavioral Scientist, Volume 58, No. 14, 1823-1833.

Gonzales, Roberto G., and Ariel Ruiz. 2014. “Dreaming Beyond the Fields: Undocumented Youth, Rural Realities, and a Constellation of Disadvantage.” Latino Studies, Volume 12 Issue 2, 194-216.

Gonzales, Roberto G., Carola Suárez-Orozco, and Maria Cecilia Dedios. 2013. “No Place to Belong: Contextualizing Concepts of Mental Health among Undocumented Immigrant Youth in the United States.” American Behavioral Scientist, Volume 57 Issue 8, 1173 - 1198.

Gleeson, Shannon, and Roberto G. Gonzales. 2012. “When Do Papers Matter? An Institutional Analysis of Undocumented Life in the United States.” International Migration, Vol. 50, Issue 4, 1-19.

Gonzales Roberto G., and Leo R. Chavez. 2012. “Awakening to a Nightmare”: Abjectivity and Illegality in the Lives of Undocumented 1.5 Generation Latino Immigrants in the United States.”  Current Anthropology 53(3).

Gonzales, Roberto G. 2011. "Learning to be Illegal: Undocumented Youth and Shifting Legal Contexts in the Transition to Adulthood.” American Sociological Review, Volume 76, Number 4, 602-619.

Gonzales, Roberto G. 2010. “On the Wrong Side of the Tracks: Understanding the Effects of School Structure and Social Capital in the Educational Pursuits of Undocumented Immigrant Students."  Peabody Journal of Education, Volume 85 Issue 4, 469-485.

Abrego, Leisy J. and Roberto G. Gonzales.  2010. “Blocked Paths, Uncertain Futures: The Postsecondary Education and Labor Market Prospects of Undocumented Youth.” Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 15: 1, 144 — 157.

Gonzales, Roberto G.  2008. “Left Out but not Shut Down: Political Activism and the Undocumented Latino Student Movement.” Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy. Volume 3:2, 219-239.

CV (file)