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A Comprehensive Assessment of Barriers Encountered by Undocumented Hispanic Immigrants in Utilizing the U.S. Legal System
AuthorDarnell, Steve R.
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This dissertation summarizes 22 months of field research beginning February 2015 and ending October 2016 among Nashville’s undocumented Hispanic community. The goal of this project was to understand and identify the barriers this population encounters in utilizing the U.S. legal system using both qualitative and quantitative methods. Initial research consisted of formal, recorded individual and group interviews of 26 undocumented Hispanics and 15 key informants who work closely with Nashville’s undocumented community. In addition, hundreds of other undocumented immigrants were observed and informally interviewed during this time. Once saturation was reached in the interviews, the qualitative prong of the research ended. All recorded interviews were transcribed and coded and various themes were identified. The qualitative data revealed eight common themes barring the undocumented community’s utilization of the legal system. These were: 1) fear of deportation, 2) structural barriers, 3) cultural barriers, 4) real and perceived discrimination, 5) unawareness of legal rights, 6) unawareness of legal processes and structure, 7) lack of community empowerment, and 8) lack of specific legal self-efficacy. To confirm the qualitative findings, a 69-item survey instrument was prepared and administered to a non-randomized sample of 350 undocumented Hispanic immigrants living in the Nashville area. The survey’s quantitative data confirmed the existence of these eight barriers in varying degrees among the respondents. The survey data indicated the isolated effect of each identified barrier varied amongst individuals based on such factors as life experience, current political climate, and demographics. This research indicated that there is no lone barrier keeping the undocumented community from utilizing the U.S. legal system. Rather, it is the intersectionality of these barriers working in unison, which bars Nashville’s undocumented community from utilizing the legal system.