Date of Graduation

Spring 5-19-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Migration Studies


College of Arts and Sciences


Migration Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Evelyn Rodriguez


Traditional understandings of legal status focus on its role as a mechanism for state function without adequately acknowledging the emotional component of how it feels to navigate it, especially for immigrants. Drawing on the embodied wisdom of immigrants to better understand what legal status is and what role it plays in society, this study utilizes 13 semi-structured interviews conducted with immigrants now permanently documented in the United States as legal permanent residents or naturalized citizens, who previously lived undocumented in the country, to identify several patterns that highlight the limit of conventional notions of citizenship. By employing a person-centered approach to emotion and prioritizing the context of global inequality within which citizenship is distributed, my data draws upon existing literature on the complexity of citizenship to emphasize that even as legal barriers lift, emotional marginalization remains or grows more complex over time. Despite this, immigrants demonstrate agency as they use their legal status to navigate their relationships with the state in meaningful and empowered ways despite hostile aspects of the receiving context. Understanding legal status through immigrants’ emotional experience can prompt theoretical conversations to be more committed to those most intimately involved with citizenship, and help support calls for policy that prioritizes pathways to legal status.