Inside Participation, Outside Citizenship: What We Can Learn about Citizenship from Undocumented Youth

Elizabeth Benedict Christensen

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Currently in the United States, approximately 2.1 million children and youth are “undocumented” or without legal status. Due to the 1982 Supreme Court Case, Plyler v. Doe, these children have the right to basic education; from kindergarten through high school (K-12), immigration status cannot be checked or used as a means to bar these children from education. Thus, undocumented children and youth are inside participation, but outside citizenship status while growing up in the United States. With qualitative data constructed in conjunction with thirty-three undocumented youth, this chapter explores how participation in everyday life, social activities, and education structures undocumented youth’s understanding and experiences of citizenship. Because this particular immigrant population straddles the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion, their unique experiences allow for fruitful discussion about “lived citizenship,” e.g. citizenship which is defined and earned via participation in everyday life, regardless of legal citizenship status. Empirical findings demonstrate that undocumented children and youth consider themselves to be U.S. citizens precisely because of their inclusion in the educational system and participation in everyday activities―even when they know they are undocumented growing up.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStaatsbürgerschaft im Spannungsfeld von Inklusion und Exklusion : Internationale Perspektiven
EditorsSarah J. Grünendahl, Andreas Kewes, Emmanuel Ndahayo, Jasmin Mouissi, Carolin Nieswandt
Number of pages18
Place of PublicationWiesbaden
PublisherSpringer VS
Publication date2019
ISBN (Print)9783658255336
ISBN (Electronic)9783658255343
Publication statusPublished - 2019
SeriesStudien zur Migrations- und Integrationspolitik


  • 1.5 generation youth
  • Undocumented
  • Children’s & youth’s citizenship
  • Participation parity

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