Department of Family Therapy Dissertations and Applied Clinical Projects

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Family Therapy


Kara S. Erolin

Committee Member

Anne Rambo

Committee Member

Christopher F. Burnett


In the United States, the topic of immigration represents a source of intense debate, which has escalated in recent years. Research indicates that Latinx immigrants are negatively impacted by current immigration policies— they are feeling afraid, angry, exhausted, defeated, overwhelmed, and concerned about themselves and their family (Castrellón, Rivarola, & López, 2017; Wray-Lake et al., 2018). This research, however, has largely neglected the Central American subgroup and the experiences of undocumented immigrants. The purpose of this study was to understand the experiences of undocumented Central American immigrants and their families within the current sociopolitical context. I utilized interpretative phenomenological analysis to examine data from five semi-structured interviews, which yielded four major themes: limited opportunities and restrictions; fear of deportation; increased racism and xenophobia; coping strategies; and several subthemes. Participant experiences were interpreted through the lens of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model of development. The findings indicated that participants and their families experienced negative mental health indicators (e.g., stress, fear, anxiety, uncertainty, trauma) in relation to undocumented status; and were especially impacted by the current sociopolitical climate and immigration policies. Implications of the findings are discussed and clinical recommendations are given about the unique needs and challenges of this population, which will aid in the development and provision of culturally responsive care and services.