Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2010

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Social Work

First Advisor

Susan A. Murty

First Committee Member

Mercedes E Bern-Klug

Second Committee Member

Jeanne Saunders

Third Committee Member

Lisa Skemp

Fourth Committee Member

Steve Hitlin


Research studies have pointed to specific challenges for undocumented Latino immigrants including exploitation in the workplace (Stoddard, 1976), denial of health care (Angel, Frias & Hill, 2005; Passel, 2005) and lack of access to higher education (Seif, 2004). In addition, fear is never far from their consciousness. Fear of being identified as illegal and faced with possible arrest and deportation are realities for undocumented Latino immigrants. Both work and home are unsafe, particularly because of immigration raids by federal agents. In addition they are stigmatized by mainstream society (Padilla & Perez, 2003). Even the word "undocumented" has been used interchangeably with words like "illegal" and "alien" suggesting criminal behavior. These hardships make it difficult for these immigrants to become part of mainstream society and create barriers to opportunities.

All of these factors should logically discourage Latin Americans from immigrating to the United States. However, both the documented and undocumented Latino populations in the United States continue to increase. Although the situation of new Latino immigrants, especially those who are undocumented, seems extremely difficult, there is something unexplained occurring that has not been accounted for in current research that allows them to survive these hardships. In addition, there is a gap in information about the immigration process gathered from immigrants themselves. Therefore, this study uses a qualitative descriptive approach to learn from undocumented immigrants about their experiences when they first came to the United States and how they negotiate their situation while living in the United States.

The major findings of this study offer an inside look into the world of undocumented Latino immigrants. The obstacles these immigrants face were language barriers, limited education and unfair wages at work. On the other hand, they also identify facilitators that were helpful during their initial transition into the U.S such as getting help in finding a job, knowing someone in the United States before immigrating, being connected to support networks, and receiving support from others who shared their struggles. However, these findings do not reflect the whole story.

Even though most of these Latino immigrants underwent stress and adversity as new undocumented immigrants, the study shows how they transformed their suffering using their personal strengths and drawing on support from a close-knit community. At the same time they maintained their cultural identity both in their immigrant community and within the larger community where they resided. An additional factor which contributed to their survival was that this particular community is unique in preserving the different cultures of ethnic groups rather than fusing them into a "melting pot."

Recommendations for practice include using a strengths perspective with clients and community; recommendations for teaching include using interdisciplinary educational strategies and involving students in experiential learning experiences with immigrants. Additional recommendation for policy and research are made.


Immigration, Latino, Qualitative, Resilience, Transnationalism, Undocumented


2, xiv, 236 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 227-236).


Copyright 2010 Elizabeth C Mendez-Shannon