The overarching goal of this research is to contribute to a better understanding of the role of liminal legality in shaping migration aspirations and capabilities of Latino immigrants in the United States. Since 1965, the ‘Latino threat narrative’ (Chavez, 2008) gave rise to an increasingly restrictive immigration policy and the militarization of the U.S.-Mexican border. However, such restrictive measures had the unintended consequence of keeping immigrants in rather than ‘keeping them out’ (Massey & Pren, 2012). Consequently, a large and growing number of Latino immigrants continued to live in the United States, often undocumented or in liminal legality. The term liminal legality refers to those immigrants that find themselves in ‘legal limbo’; the gray area between being documented and undocumented. A precarious situation that creates anxiety (Menjívar, 2006; Cebulko, 2014). The paradox between the reduced out-migration of Latino immigrants, the hostile climate towards them, and the ensuing anxiety makes one wonder: why do they stay? The aspirations-capabilities framework (De Haas, 2021a) provided a useful theoretical framework to analyze this. The findings indicate that the prospect of liminal legality does not deter Latino immigrants to come to the United States nor does the experience of liminal legality encourage them to return to their country of origin or migrate onwards. The findings show that liminal legality reduces the (perceived) migration capabilities of Latino immigrants living in Southeast Florida as it increases external constraints (e.g. travel restrictions) and reduces internal enablers (human and economic capital). Additionally, the focus on dealing with liminal legality was found to impede migration capabilities: as aspirations and capabilities focus on legalizing, the ‘capacity to aspire’ return or onward migration is hampered. Thus, liminal legality can be expected to decrease return and (to a lesser extent) onward migration, contributing to the continued growth of the Latino population in the United States. Combined with my findings on the intersectionality of legal and socioeconomic status, this research warns of the creation of an immobile Latino underclass. While researchers and politicians have focused attention on undocumented immigrants, those in liminal legality remain largely unseen. Therefore, this research contributes to narrowing the knowledge gap regarding immigrants in liminal legality. What is more, legal status crucially shapes immigrant assimilation (De Genova, 2002; Menjívar, 2006), highlighting the relevance of this study to academics and policy makers in the field of immigrant assimilation. To address the legal violence imposed by liminal legality and improve migratory mobility of Latino immigrants in the United States, I advocate to reduce wait times in the immigration process and to create legal pathways that are accessible to those who are ineligible for current visas

Dr. Fiona-Katharina Seiger, Dr. Asya Pisarevskaya
Public Administration
Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Anouk Jorna. (2022, August 15). Beyond Borders Between Legal Limits. Public Administration. Retrieved from