Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Arthur Hernandez


Audra Skukauskaite


David Campos


Sharon Herbers


In 2012, an Executive Order created DACA, providing some youth with undocumented citizenship status access to post-secondary options and a way to avoid deportation. With DACA, a student population previously hidden and lacking entrée became more visible and gained ways to seek post-secondary options. The newness of this population created a lack of research about students who have experienced the transition from having undocumented to DACA immigration status. Researchers, educational practitioners, and non-profit organizations needed knowledge of how this impacted their student identity development and how they navigated education processes. This study examined the unique strategies these students used to negotiate their student experiences and how this influenced their student identity development. This study can be important for 2 reasons: (a) these students with DACA status voiced their experiences; and, (b) education practitioners, non-profit organizations, and legislators can increase knowledge of the concerns and impact DACA played on their identity formation. The purpose of this study was to describe the educational experiences of students of Mexican descent with DACA status and the impact of those experiences on the student identity development of these college students. The theoretical framework for this study was bioecological systems theory. Qualitative research methods were used with a narrative inquiry design. Data were gathered through interviews and arts-based research activities with 4 purposefully selected participants. Three layers of data analysis were used including 5 phases of data analysis, analyzing while transcribing, and the Developmental Research (DRS) sequence. This produced six domains: (1) Mexico schooling versus U.S. schooling; (2) openings versus barriers; (3) law breakers versus law followers; (4) obscured versus visible; (5) detours versus gateways; (6) dreams versus realities. Findings showed 6 strategies participants’ used to negotiate their educational experiences and form their student identity development: (1) Maintain memories of Mexico in native language and with knowledge there is no return; (2) Accept unique immigration circumstances fully and with clear cognizance; (3) Find creative ways to avoid detection; (4) Blend in until it is safe to expose undocumented status; (5) Cast aside confinements of undocumented status and enjoy new freedoms of having DACA while accepting remaining struggles; (6) Limit the scope of future planning while staying aware of precarious situation. Recommendations included 3 ways to better assist these students. Conclusions were: (1) Their educational experiences were unique due to their immigration status and the time and context; (2) Their student identity was impacted, not formed; (3) The strategies were general, yet some tactics were unique; (4) The impact on student identity was demonstrated in the strategies, an interactive process of acting upon the environment with agency; an iterative process which influenced their development.