The High-Stakes Literacies of Undocumented, Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth Detained in America
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Every year, thousands of involuntary and voluntary immigrant youth arrive in the United States in search of a new life. Many immigrants are apprehended upon entry and detained by the federal authorities for their undocumented and unaccompanied status. The detainment center serves as a temporary living facility where youth begin their immigration proceedings and attempt to be united with a family member or sponsor within the United States. Immigrant youth without sponsors often end up living in foster care or group homes. On the other hand, youth with inadequate immigration cases are deported to their home country directly from the center. While detained, youth must learn to navigate and broker the complex contexts within their environment, many of which can have profound impacts on their future. Within these contexts, youth largely rely on their ability to communicate and share their stories with important actors in each domain. The majority of the high-stakes contexts within which immigrant youth come in contact utilize literacy to mediate activities and events. Such domains of activity include legal meetings, family reunification meetings, schooling and more. The current study examined the experiences of unaccompanied, undocumented immigrant youth detained in the World’s Children House (WCH). Close attention was given to the literacy practices and events of immigrant youth as well as the expectations placed upon youth by the contexts of the WCH. Data, including: interviews, observations, artifacts and documents were collected to help achieve this goal. Literacy practices and events present within the data fit into two categories: youth-enacted literacies and system-imposed literacies. The major purposes for literacy within the center included: Decision-Making, Orientation, Academic and Downtime. The identified literacy practices had different characteristics within formal and informal contexts. Findings revealed that immigrant youth were able to both shape and be shaped by their environment while brokering the contexts of a contested space. Furthermore, the institutional demands placed upon youth were unrealistic and unfair. In many instances, for example, youth were unaware of the people, stakes and consequences associated with each activity. Implications of the current study speak to researchers within the fields of: Adolescent Literacy, Multicultural Education, English language learning (ELL), Immigration, Policy and Sociology.
English language learning (ELL)