If you had lived your whole life in a place where you legally weren’t allowed, how would you remain hopeful about the future?
An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States wake up to this reality every day. To Eric Chun Lung Chen, Ph.D., they represent the voiceless whom he wants to give a voice to.
Chen, an associate professor of counseling psychology at the Graduate School of Education (GSE) has spent the past several years researching the quality of resilience, as manifested in the educational and career pursuits of undocumented immigrant students. He has focused most intently on “DREAMers,” roughly 700,000 undocumented individuals who were brought into the United States at a very young age. They were given a temporary relief from deportation in 2012 under former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The act had been considered, but not passed, by Congress in 2010.
The DREAMers’ experience deeply resonates with Chen, who was born in Taiwan and came to the states as an international student to attend graduate school. In addition to the common adjustment challenges associated with being an immigrant, he found the bureaucracy and uncertainty he encountered in obtaining his employment-based immigration visas and green card to be stressful, taking almost a decade to complete.
“When one’s own identity seems to be stigmatized as a result of being a marginalized member of society, how does that stigmatized identity impact one’s mental health? I’m particularly interested in the sense of self, and how it changes over time as it relates to one’s resilience and interpersonal relationships,” he said.
“If I were one of them, I might have given up hope a long time ago.”