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Abstract

Immigration enforcement has been a central point of conflict within the political landscape for decades, but recently the hardships associated with uncertain migratory status have become dire. It is not just the structural growth of the ‘deportation machine’ that is threatening to migrants’ well-being; the recent surge in anti-immigrant political rhetoric also facilitates discriminatory treatment against anyone who looks like they might be a migrant. This dissertation examines how political trends towards harsher immigration enforcement do not only have important effects on the lives of the undocumented, but shape the embedded lives and identities of members of mixed-status communities, with consequences for the cultural frames they draw upon to understand their world. I use ethnographic research as well as data from 85 semi-formal interviews with immigrants in Chicago to delve into the complexity of the effects of the political environment under the Trump administration. I demonstrate how the election of an anti-immigrant President, combined with an expanding system of internal immigration enforcement, led to large-scale disruptive effects on immigrant families, and communities. My participants described the way that their understandings of the country in which they lived, and their place within it, were shaken as they were forced to face the fact that a strongly anti-immigrant president had been chosen by the American public to be the next leader of the United States. This realization had real social, emotional, and behavioral consequences for immigrant communities. While immigration literature has emphasized the ways that the logistical challenges posed by restrictive immigration policies generate feelings of exclusion, my evidence also underlines the importance of the symbolic messages that underlie legal policies and political positions in fostering feelings of exclusion, or belonging. My dissertation provides greater understandings of the ways that cultural frames operate in the social world- the way they are utilized as coping mechanisms and as guidelines for allocating scarce resources, the circumstances that motivate their transformation, or abandonment, and ultimately their role shaping the way that people act in the world. I also draw attention to the importance of the mixed-status immigrant community as a theoretical concept that is relevant to understanding both undocumented and legally present, multi-generational immigrant lives, as I demonstrate how migratory policy has important impacts at the meso-level of social life within immigrant communities- beyond individual or family effects.

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