Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Robert C. Smith

Committee Members

Richard D. Alba

Phillip Kasinitz

Holly E. Reed

Rafael G. Alarcón Acosta

Subject Categories

Migration Studies | Sociology


Mexican immigration; illegality; undocumented immigrants; unauthorized migrants; DACAmented; immigrant families


Why and how do some undocumented immigrants, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, and their families in the United States do better than others in terms of family household income and educational planning? Immigrant “illegality” can limit specific possibilities and opportunities for most immigrants and their family members. But important variations have been identified in ethnographic fieldwork for this dissertation and through a dataset of contemporary immigrants interviewed in New York. The objective of this dissertation is to analyze how immigration status, place or local ecosystem, human capital, social networks, and intra-family dynamics affect the socioeconomic mobility of individuals, born in Mexico, who have resided in the United States for over a decade. In general, they are the heads of family households in the Bronx and Queens, both in immigrant-friendly New York City, and Suffolk County in less welcoming Eastern Long Island. This dissertation seeks to understand socioeconomic and educational outcomes by examining the effects of immigration status, local ecosystems, and intra-family dynamics among Mexican-born heads of 53 family households. Chapter 2 explains key concepts under the current deportation and immigration-enforcement regime, offering also a theoretical model based on the principle of social mobility as one aspect of immigrant integration in U.S. society. Chapter 3 examines the contexts of social mobility among Mexicans in New York using sociodemographic and migration-related variables. Chapter 4 is about outliers, because it focuses on extreme cases of families who have experienced exceptional upward mobility based on the theoretical model I suggest and despite their being long-term unauthorized immigrants. Chapter 5 explains how certain collective practices and common interactions with institutions in local ecosystems offer community support for undocumented Mexicans living in family households. Chapter 6 deals with deferred mobility, a type of precarious immobility for family households with DACA relatives. In conclusion, legal immigration status is not the only factor influencing upward mobility for Mexicans living in New York. Some individuals and their families are able to achieve notable socioeconomic successes, even as undocumented migrants, largely because of their higher human capital, stronger social networks, and positive intra-family dynamics. One central aim of this dissertation was to demonstrate that the Mexican immigrant community, far from being homogeneous, hidden or utterly powerless, is actually diverse, active, and increasing their strength in New York, despite structural barriers and their fairly recent arrival in this part of the country. The social mobility and integration of international migrants from Mexico, including their children and families, is inextricably linked to regularization policies, from granting legal status to enabling access to valuable social goods established by U.S. society.