CURRENT PROJECTS: Undocumented Youth in the United States

My current work at the University of Chicago focuses on the experiences of “1.5 generation undocumented youth,” by which I mean young persons who arrived to the U.S. as children and who grew up here without lawful status. I am collaborating with scholars, graduate students, and community service organizations to conduct mixed-method studies that examine the lives of these young persons and develop applied psychological knowledge to improve their circumstances.

My primary project draws upon ethnographic as well as participatory action research methods to study the immigration context in Chicago and understand how undocumented young people navigate it to build meaningful lives. The goal of this work is to build psychological knowledge about these young people's experiences and produce a website that communicates their experiences to others in similar conditions (undocumentedwisdom.com).

If you are between 18 and 35 years of age, live in the United States, and either are undocumented or have parents who are, please write to me at bdellis@uchicago.edu to take part in an in-person or Skype interview that will help build this website. I will explain how the interviews are anonymous and confidential. Please do not use your real name in email correspondence.

Second, in collaboration with two other researchers, I am interviewing undocumented adolescents from different cultural backgrounds to examine how they differ in their experiences and understandings of undocumented status. Third, I am coordinating a survey project with members of the Illinois Coalition for Immigration and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) to assess the needs of undocumented youth and their families. Fourth, with the help of a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I am conducting media analyses of “coming out” events during which undocumented young persons deliberately disclose their status to others in public spaces. Finally, I am working with Dr. Roberto Gonzales from the Education Department at Harvard University to conduct psychological analyses of interview and survey data collected via his National Undocumented Research Project (NURP). 

 

DOCTORAL THESIS

 Deportability and Kombinowanie in Canada: A critical ethnographic study of ‘irregular’ migrant subjectivities (find it here)

This project critically analyzes how the daily lives of ‘irregular’ migrants in Canada are socially produced and navigated. Building on the recent work of critical migration scholars, I study ‘illegalization’ as an exploitative sociopolitical process produced not only by laws but also state and non-state agents who draw upon legal and illegal practices to achieve their aims. Deportability is defined as the palpable sociopolitical condition generated by ‘illegalization,’ and a chief disciplinary tactic that renders migrants vulnerable and exploitable as cheap laborers for capital. While deportation studies are growing around the world, so far little is known about the daily experiences of ‘illegalized’ migrants and the subjective life produced under deportable conditions; this is especially the case in Canada, where research on ‘illegalization’ is in its early stages. This study takes a cultural psychological perspective and employs critical ethnographic methods to study the subjectivities of Polish ‘illegal’ migrants living in Toronto and Mississauga, Canada. Specifically, I examine the mixed and contradictory contexts faced by these migrants as well as how migrants interpret and navigate their unequal conditions to build their lives as non- status residents. Analyses of both interview and participant observations reveal how ‘illegal’ migrants experience systematic fears, threats, and concerns, which motivate them to develop kombinowanie and other psychological and social tactics conducive for surviving their unequal conditions. I adopt a trajectory approach to map these developments in lived time and show how various sociopolitical imperatives coalesce to generate vulnerable subjects who suffer from an adverse psychosocial condition; namely, chronic deportability. I differentiate chronic deportability from acute moments of deportability to expose the psychosocial dynamics of deportable life and trace how migrant ‘illegalization’ functions via various gradations of fear produced in recurring, cyclical forms. While the major findings confirm that deportability operates to exploit migrants who choose to work in unequal conditions, I show how migrants are not unilaterally determined by the demands of deportation regimes. Specifically, the final chapter draws upon critical psychological research to examine how migrants express more subtle, psychological forms of resistance that undermine the impositions of deportability and may lead to broader sociopolitical transformations. 

 

MASTER’S THESIS

Embodied existence in language: A study of experience via Merleau-Ponty and Ricoeur (find it here)

This study develops an understanding of experience based on the works of two prominent contemporary philosophers, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Paul Ricoeur. Both of these thinkers offer phenomenological accounts of experience, each of which focuses on different existential dimensions: Merleau-Ponty focuses on pre-reflective, embodied processes, whereas Ricoeur describes reflective experience in language. After studying each account in turn, I examine how they can together contribute to a more comprehensive theory. I conclude that a single theory cannot be constructed from both accounts; however, I contend that it is meaningful to read the two philosophies side by side, especially if precedence is given to Merleau-Ponty’s framework. In my final discussion, I consider the implications of such a reading for the discipline of psychology.