The Immigrant Youth Project

The Immigrant Youth Project

The Immigrant Youth Project is a collaborative research study supported by the National Science Foundation and conducted by researchers at the University of South Florida and the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute at the George Washington University. 

We are collecting stories about the experiences of immigrant young adults living in Florida to understand their social and emotional well-being. We hope to share the insights of our findings with policymakers, advocates, teachers, counselors, and community members to address the experiences of immigrant youth.

The research team cares about the significance of our work among immigrant communities across the United States and we have partnered with several organizations who directly engage with these populations such as United We Dream and the Florida Immigrant Coalition.


Florida Immigrant Coalition
United We Dream
University of South Florida
The George Washington University


Research Summary

This project investigates the social and emotional well-being of undocumented young adults. More than 2.1 million undocumented young adults have been living in the United States since childhood. Their status is associated with developmental, economic, and social inequalities that shape all aspects of their lives, including employment, mobility, and educational opportunities. This study contributes theoretical innovations to what we know about immigrant incorporation, most notably through the notion of young adults’ confidence in the dependability of the surrounding social and material environments in which they go about their lives. The project expands understandings of mechanisms that enhance well-being among young immigrants that will allow the scientific community to identify the approaches, programs, groups, and individuals that foster positive coping skills in this population. In this regard, this research advances the health and welfare of marginalized subgroups living in the United States. This study provides a knowledge base to guide the development of future scholarly work in this field and interventions to address the needs of the undocumented youth population. Moreover, this research directly enhances the participation and professional and academic development of historically underrepresented groups in research, adding to the diversity of social science professionals. This project also enhances graduate education by training and incorporating students into the research process. Students have opportunities to learn the project’s methodological approaches and participate in the analysis of collected data.

This study proposes that the social and emotional well-being of undocumented young adult immigrants is  linked to the confidence in the constancy of one’s social and material environments of action, especially as they learn about and fully grasp the implications of their legal status. The research expands on preliminary findings from pilot studies on this population to relate patterns in their social and emotional well-being to different trajectories into the workforce, higher education, and family formation–all of which comprise the transition to adulthood. The study collects 120 in-depth interviews and data related to participants’ neighborhoods and schools in four distinct types of communities. Data analysis considers how the conditions under which participants migrated and the socio-economic and demographic contexts in which they grew up and they currently live in the U.S. shape their well-being and other social, educational, and economical outcomes. The project provides new insights on the roles of individual, family, and neighborhood-related factors that exacerbate or mitigate social and emotional well-being among this population.




Peer-Reviewed Research Articles

Aranda, Elizabeth, Elizabeth Vaquera, Heide Castañeda, and *Girsea Martinez Rosas (2022). "Undocumented Again? DACA Rescission, Emotions, and Incorporation Outcomes among Young Adults." Social Forces.

Vaquera, Elizabeth, Heide Castañeda, and Elizabeth Aranda (2022). "Legal and ethnoracial consciousness: Perceptions of immigrant media narratives among the Latino undocumented 1.5 generation." American Behavioral Scientist: 00027642221083538.

Aranda, Elizabeth, Elizabeth Vaquera, and Heide Castañeda (2021). “Shifting Roles in Families of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Recipients and Implications for the Transition to Adulthood.” Journal of Family Issues. 42(9): 2111-2132.

Aranda, Elizabeth and Elizabeth Vaquera (2018). “Immigrant Family Separation, Fear, and the U.S. Deportation Regime.”  Monitoring of Public Opinion: Economic and Social Changes Journal, 5 (147): 204-2012.

Vaquera, Elizabeth and Elizabeth Aranda (2017).  “Moving Up and Down the Ladder: Perceived Social Mobility and Emotional Dispositions among South Florida’s Immigrants.” Sociological Forum 32(4): 793-815.

Vaquera, Elizabeth, Elizabeth Aranda, and *Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez (2017). “Emotional Challenges of Undocumented Young Adults: Ontological Security, Emotional Capital, and Well-being” Social Problems 64(2): 298-314.


Research Team

Principal Investigators  

Headshot of Elizabeth Aranda

Elizabeth Aranda, Ph.D.

Professor of Sociology and Director of the Im/migrant Well-Being Research Center in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Florida. A native of Puerto Rico, she has dedicated herself to documenting the lived experience of migration and to share (im)migrants’ stories through her research and teaching. Her research addresses migrants’ emotional well-being and how they adapt to challenges posed by racial and ethnic inequalities and legal status.

Headshot of Heide Castañeda

Heide Castañeda, Ph.D.

Professor of Anthropology at the University of South Florida. Her research centers on medical anthropology, migration, migrant health, health policy, and mixed-status families in the US/Mexico borderlands. Her current projects focus on mixed-status families along the US/Mexico border, legal status and the social and emotional well-being of undocumented youth, and transit migration in Sinaloa along Mexico’s Ruta Pacifica.

Headshot of Elizabeth Vaquera

Elizabeth Vaquera, Ph.D.

Director of the GW Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute. She holds appointments in Sociology and the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration. Her research focuses on the physical, emotional, and social wellbeing of vulnerable and diverse groups, particularly Latinos/as, immigrants, and children. Her most recent book, Education and Immigration, examines the educational experiences of immigrants and their children living in the U.S. Dr. Vaquera is the recipient of several federal grants by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Graduate Research Assistants

Headshot of Girsea Martinez

Girsea Martinez

Sociology Ph.D. Candidate, University of South Florida

Headshot of Melanie Escue

Melanie Escue

Sociology Ph.D. Candidate, University of South Florida

Headshot of Leslie Manso

Leslie Manso

M.A. Anthropology,
The George Washington Univ.

Headshot of Ana Diaz

Ana Diaz

M.A. International Affairs,
The George Washington Univ.

Undergraduate Research Assistants 

Headshot of Annabelle Manzo

Annabelle Manzo

Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Major










Resources for Undocumented People


Always call 911 in the case of medical emergency.

Crisis Center of Tampa Bay
One Crisis Center Plaza

Dial: 211: (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) Speak confidentially with crisis specialist for emergency assistance, suicide prevention, emotional support, and information about other services. Help for veterans 1-844-MyFLVet Sexual assault exams and advocacy (Assault is not limited to women--all genders are welcome at the Crisis Center)


The Spring of Tampa Bay:

Help with domestic violence through an emergency hotline, emergency and temporary housing, creating a safety plan, legal assistance, health services, and career training. 24 hour hotline 813.247.7233; Tampa Outreach 813.749.8764; Plant City outreach 813.247.5433 ext 108; Both Spanish and English.

  • TransCare Transportation: Emergency transportation tailored for sexual assault and domestic violence: 813-964-1594
  • Counseling services: 813-264-9955
  • Telephone support services: 813-964-1577
  • Support groups for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault
  • General Information: 813-964-1964


USF Area (Tampa-St. Petersburg)

University Area Community Development Corporation Inc: Located at 14013 North 22nd St, Tampa, FL.

Provides ABE/GED and ESOL preparation courses at a low rate. Tuition is $45 and testing is $5. Also provide daycare for children during class times. Call 813.558.5212 ext 409

North Tampa Head Start program:

Offers free educational and childcare services for children 3 or 4 years old. Call 813.903.3338

Mobile Clinic “La Esperanza”:

Offers free healthcare services and accept any form of identification. Provide: primary care (every Tuesday); women’s health (every first Tuesday of the month), Eye exams (second Tuesday of every month), Children’s health services (second Tuesday of every one month). Open every tuesday from 5-7. Call 813.486.4936; Located at Nuestra Senora De Guadalupe 16650 US Highway 301 S., Wimauma, Fl. 33598


Hispanic Services Council

Has several programs, including La Red de Padres (Parent engagement network) in Wimauma, Plant City, North Tampa, Drew Park, and Palmetto Beach. Also provides early childhood development screenings, health programs in communities, and low-cost, immigrant legal services. Also conducts “Know your Rights” training. Call  813.936.7700. Address: 7825 N. Dale Mabry Hwy., Ste. 102, Tampa, Florida 33614

FLIC Hotline for Community Protection

Report a checkpoint or a hate crime, learn about your constitutional rights, and host a Know Your Rights Training. Call 1-888-600-5762 (

Gulfcoast Legal Services

Contact Luis at 727.821.0726 ext 229, email [email protected]; Both Spanish and English.

Students Working For Equal Rights

To get involved in civic engagement and find community with undocumented youth. Have chapters in Lakeland, Tampa, and Orlando. Contact: 786-273-9748 

United We Dream- Tampa Bay

Raise awareness about immigrant rights and creates a community for young undocumented people, their families, and allies. Also can connect you with legal services, give ICE Raid alerts, and engage in local civic engagement. Follow them on Facebook at “United We Dream: Tampa Bay.” Email: [email protected]

Bay Area Legal Services Inc.

Provides legal aide and pro-bono services. Call 813.864.2280

Computer Lab: Offers free courses that include basic computer skills, Microsoft office software, professional Skills, and creative software. Call 813.558.5212



Florida Immigration Advocacy Center

Handles advocacy issues for immigrants. Call (305) 573-1106

Florida Farmworkers & Dependents of Farmworkers

Assist with career pathways and financial assistance for citizen, legal residents, or DACA recipients. Provide: Vocational training, technical college, GED, ESOL classes at USF and HCC. Contact: Aida Coronado, Diana Lamas, Belinda Walker at 813.757.9480; Dover Family Learning Center: 3218 San Jose Mission Dr. Dover, FL 33527

Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida

Provide legal and income tax services for low-income families for various cities in mid-Florida. Call 866.886.1799; email [email protected]

Florida Immigrant Coalition

Provide help with detention assistance, access to college, civic engagement, citizenship applications, and wage theft. Call (305) 571-7254; 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Suite 800, Miami, FL 33137; [email protected]; For help with detention issues contact Grey at [email protected].

Farmworkers Association of Florida (FWAF)

Protects rights of all Florida farm workers and assists with wage theft and poor working conditions. Contact (407) 886-5151; [email protected], 1264 Apopka Blvd, Apopka, FL, 32703

Hope CommUnity Center

Immigration services and rights, English classes, citizenship classes, parenting classes, tutoring, volunteer opportunities. 407-880-4673

SPARCC: Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center

Free and confidential help for survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault 24/7 in Florida. Call 800.500.1119 for domestic violence and 888.956.7273 for sexual violence help. 

Florida Law Help

Online resource for various legal issues, including family law, housing, and consumer help.


Suicide Prevention hotline 800-273-8255 and 888-628-9454 (Spanish)


Scholarship Resources for Undocumented high school, college, graduate students, and law students.

Immigrant Defense Project

Provides legal services and information. For legal advice call 212.725.6422 or go to Also provide help in creating an emergency preparedness plan and Know your Rights information, in various languages.

United We Dream

Provide services with deportation proceedings, educational resources, and community involvement