Date of Paper/Work


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Sarah Noonan; Robert Brown; Thomas Fish


This study documents the quest for a post-secondary education as experienced by unauthorized students entering this country as minor children due to the decisions made by their parents to enter the United States illegally. Using a qualitative and phenomenological approach, the study examined how unauthorized students coped with the discovery and the reality of what it means to be an unauthorized immigrant, and its effects on their lives. Eighteen unauthorized student participants revealed how their unauthorized status affected their opportunity to attend college, and also prevented high school or college graduates from obtaining legal employment. Some participants crossed the border between the United States and Mexico, and described the risks and dangers associated with crossing. Others told stories shared by family members as they were too young to remember the crossing, and how the “discovery” of their unauthorized status affected them. Participants’ stories reveal the anxiety and stress of living and working without the benefit of immigration reform or another remedy to permanently modify their status as unauthorized immigrants subject to deportation with the election of a new president. Their narratives reveal how participants experienced and coped with significant and recurring grief and loss due to the hazards encountered in living outside of the system as unauthorized people. The study includes recommendations for how K-12 educators, counselors, social workers, health care professionals, and college personnel should recognize the emotional trauma and support students seeking advancement in education or employment.


undocumented students, immigrants, the DREAM Act, immigration policy

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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