Leisy J. Abrego

Professor and Chair of Chicana/o and Central American Studies

Leisy J. Abrego is a Professor in Chicana/o Studies at UCLA. She is a member of the first large wave of Salvadoran immigrants who arrived in Los Angeles in the early 1980s.

Her research and teaching interests—inspired in great part by her family’s experiences—are in Central American immigration, Latina/o families, the inequalities created by gender, and the production of “illegality” through U.S. immigration laws. Her award-winning first book,Sacrificing Families: Navigating Laws, Labor, and Love Across Borders(Stanford University Press, 2014), examines the well-being of Salvadoran immigrants and their families—both in the United States and in El Salvador—as these are shaped by immigration policies and gendered expectations. Her early research examines how immigration and educational policies shape the educational trajectories of undocumented students. Her second book,Immigrant Families (Polity Press, 2016), is co-authored with Cecilia Menjívar and Leah Schmalzbauer and delves deeply into the structural conditions contextualizing the diverse experiences of contemporary immigrant families in the United States. More recently, Abrego has been writing about how different subsectors of Latino immigrants internalize immigration policies differently and how this shapes their willingness to make claims in the United States. Her current project examines the day-to-day lives of mixed status families after DACA. Her scholarship analyzing legal consciousness, illegality, and legal violence has garnered numerous national awards. She also dedicates much of her time to supporting and advocating for refugees and immigrants by writing editorials and pro-bono expert declarations in asylum cases.


  • PhD, Sociology, UCLA (2008)
  • MA, Sociology, UCLA (2002)
  • BA, Spanish, Pomona College (1997)


  • Menjívar, Cecilia, Leisy Abrego, and Leah Schmalzbauer. 2016. Immigrant Families. Polity Press.
  • Abrego, Leisy. 2014. Sacrificing Families: Navigating Laws, Labor, and Love Across Borders. Stanford University Press.

Articles & Chapters

  • Abrego,Leisy. 2019. “Relational Legal Consciousness of US Citizenship: Privilege, Responsibility, Guilt, and Love in Latino Mixed-Status Families.” Law & Society Review. DOI: 10.1111/lasr.12414
  • Abrego, Leisy. 2018. “Central American Refugees Reveal the Crisis of the State.” Pps. 213-228 in The Oxford Handbook of Migration Crises Edited by Cecilia Menjívar, Marie Ruiz, and Immanuel Ness. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190856908.013.43
  •  Abrego, Leisy. 2018. “Renewed Optimism and Spatial Mobility: Legal Consciousness of Latino Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Recipients and their Families in Los Angeles.” Ethnicities 18(2): 192-207. DOI: 10.1177/1468796817752563
  •  Abrego, Leisy and Leah Schmalzbauer. 2018. “Illegality, Motherhood, and Place: Undocumented Latinas Making Meaning and Negotiating Daily Life.” Women’s Studies International Forum 67: 10-17. DOI: 10.1016/j.wsif.2017.12.004
  •  Abrego, Leisy, Mat Coleman, Daniel E. Martínez, Cecilia Menjívar, and Jeremy Slack. 2017. “Making Immigrants into Criminals: Legal Processes of Criminalization in the Post-IIRIRA Era.” Journal on Migration and Human Security 5(3): 694-715. DOI: 10.14240/jmhs.v5i3.105
  • Abrego, Leisy. 2017. “On Silences: Salvadoran Refugees Then and Now.” Latino Studies 15(1): 73-85. DOI: 10.1057/s41276-017-0044-4
  • Abrego, Leisy. 2017. “#CentAmStudies from a Social Science Perspective” Latino Studies 15(1): 95-98. DOI: 10.1057/s41276-017-0048-0
  • Abrego, Leisy. 2017. “Hard Work Alone is Not Enough: Blocked Mobility for Salvadoran Women in the United States.” Pps. 60-76 in U.S. Central Americans: Reconstructing Memories, Struggles, and Communities of Resistance, edited by Karina O. Alvarado, Alicia Ivonne Estrada, and Ester E. Hernández. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press.
  • Abrego, Leisy. 2016. “Illegality as a Source of Solidarity and Tension in Latino Families.” Journal of Latino and Latin American Studies. 8(1): 5-21. DOI: 10.18085/1549-9502-8.1.5
  • Abrego, Leisy. 2016. “Transnational Mothers and Development: Experiences of Salvadoran Migrants in the United States.” Pps. 103-116 in Mobility and Family in Transnational Space. Marzia Grassi and Tatiana Ferreira (Editors). Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  • Negrón-Gonzales, Genevieve, Leisy J. Abrego, and Kathleen Coll. 2015. “Introduction: Immigrant Latina/o Youth and Illegality: Challenging the Politics of Deservingness.” Association of Mexican American Educator’s (AMAE) Journal 9(3): 7-10. http://amaejournal.utsa.edu/index.php/amae/issue/view/27
  • Abrego, Leisy and Sarah M. Lakhani. 2015. “Incomplete Inclusion: Legal Violence and Immigrants in Liminal Legal Statuses.” Law & Policy. 37(4): 265-293. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/lapo.12039/full
  • Abrego, Leisy. 2015. “Immigration Law and Immigrants’ Lived Experiences.” Pps. 258-273 in The Handbook of Law & Society. Austin Sarat and Patricia Ewick (Editors). Wiley.
  • Abrego, Leisy and Ariana J. Valle. 2015. “Salvadoran-Americans.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Latino Studies. Ilan Stavans, Ed. New York: Oxford University Press, January 16, 2015. http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199913701/obo-9780199913701-0096.xml
  • Abrego, Leisy and Shannon Gleeson. 2014. “Workers, Families, and Immigration Policies.” Pps. 209-228 in Undecided Nation: Political Gridlock and the Immigration Crisis. Tony Payan and Erika de la Garza (Editors). Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.
  • Abrego, Leisy. 2013. “Latino Immigrants’ Diverse Experiences of Illegality.” Pps. 139-160 in Constructing Immigrant “Illegality”: Critiques, Experiences, and Responses. Cecilia Menjívar and Daniel Kanstroom (Editors). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Menjívar, Cecilia and Leisy Abrego. 2012. “Legal Violence: Immigration Law and the Lives of Central American Immigrants.” American Journal of Sociology. 117(5): 1380-1421.
  • Abrego, Leisy. 2011. “Legal Consciousness of Undocumented Latinos: Fear and Stigma as Barriers to Claims Making for First and 1.5 Generation Immigrants.” Law & Society Review. 45(2): 337-369.
  • Abrego, Leisy and Cecilia Menjívar. 2011. “Immigrant Latina Mothers as Targets of Legal Violence.” International Journal of Sociology of the Family. 37(1): 9-26.
  • Abrego, Leisy and Roberto Gonzales. 2010. “Blocked Paths, Uncertain Futures: The Postsecondary Education and Labor Market Prospects of Undocumented Latino Youth.” Journal of Education of Students Placed at Risk 15(1): 144-157.
  • Abrego, Leisy. 2009. “Economic Well-Being in Salvadoran Transnational Families: How Gender Affects Remittance Practices.” Journal of Marriage and Family 71: 1070-1085.
  • Menjívar, Cecilia and Leisy Abrego. 2009. “Parents and Children across Borders: Legal Instability and Intergenerational Relations in Guatemalan and Salvadoran Families.” Pp. 160-189 in Across Generations: Immigrant Families in America. Nancy Foner (Editor). New York: New York University Press.
  • Abrego, Leisy. 2008. “Legitimacy, Social Identity, and the Mobilization of Law: The Effects of Assembly Bill 540 on Undocumented Students in California.” Law & Social Inquiry 33(3): 709-734.
  • Abrego, Leisy. 2006. “‘I can’t go to college because I don’t have papers’: Incorporation Patterns of Latino Undocumented Youth.” Latino Studies 4(3): 212-231.


  • Complex Consequences of U. S. Immigration Laws
  • Central American Migration
  • Immigrant and Transnational Families
  • Gender
  • Latino Undocumented Youth