The Effect of Campus Support, Undocumented Identity, and DACA Status on the Civic Engagement of Latinx Undergraduate Students

In a recent study, Dalal Katsiaficas and associates investigated the relationship of 1) campus support (the combination of campus safe spaces and peer support), 2) undocumented identity, and 3) DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status on civic engagement among Latinx undocumented undergraduates. They empirically tested both the role of social support in positively impacting the civic engagement of Latinx undocumented undergraduates as well as the effect of DACA status on this process.

Major findings from the study include:

  • Civic engagement was significantly associated with state climate, family income, peer support, and undocumented identity.
  • The majority of survey respondents participated in some form of civic engagement in the past month: 77.7% participated in a social cause they cared about; 63.6% offered advice or advocated for community members; 60.1% were involved in a community-organizing event; and 46.1% attended a protest or demonstration.
  • Nearly 62% of respondents noted that their campus had a safe space for undocumented students; of those, 74.1% reported using this space. Presence of campus safe spaces as well as peer support increased respondents’ identification with their undocumented identity
  • Identification with undocumented status was positively associated with civic engagement. DACA status did not play a moderating role.
  • Students with DACA status identified more strongly with their undocumented identity, while those without DACA status experienced significantly less peer support and identified less with their undocumented identity.

DACA Status Effect on Civic EngagementThese findings challenge the long-standing perception of emerging adults as self-focused as undocumented Latinx undergraduates appear to be civically engaged and community-centered individuals. Furthermore, the presence and use of campus safe spaces by the majority of Latinx undocumented students affirms other research that suggests these spaces help undocumented youth mitigate feelings of loneliness and isolation, while also providing opportunities for peer interaction, information sharing, and activism.

The study also helps to clarify the effect of DACA on civic engagement. DACA students reported greater identification with their undocumented status, which suggests students may be more willing to reveal this status due to the protections DACA affords them. Furthermore, this finding supports other research that argues that DACA students are less afraid (Wong & Valdivia, 2014), feel they can pursue an education and a career, and have the confidence to embrace their immigrant identity (Williams, 2016). Ultimately, this stronger sense of undocumented identity may lead to greater civic engagement. Taken together, these results point to how DACA status may mitigate the adverse developmental effects undocumented youth experience.

The work of student affairs practitioners is critical. Consider how your campus’s policies, practices, and spaces (un)welcome undocumented students. Provide spaces where undocumented students can engage in community building and activities that support their identity development and civic engagement.

For more information on the Dream Act, DACA, and other policies related to Dreamers, please visit the American Immigration Council website.


Katsiaficas, D., Volpe, V., Raza, S. S., & Garcia, Y. (2017). The role of campus support, undocumented identity, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals on civic engagement for Latinx undocumented undergraduates. Child Development. doi:10.1111/cdev.12933

Williams, J. C. (2016). “It’s always with you, that you’re different”: Undocumented students and social exclusion.  Journal of Poverty, 20, 168–193. doi:10. 1080/10875549.2015.1094766

Wong, T. K., & Valdivia, C. (2014). In their own words: A nationwide survey of undocumented millennials. La Jolla, CA: Center for Comparative Immigration Studies.

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