Excluded from public financial aid because of their immigration status, undocumented youth in the United States frequently depend on private schools’ merit‐based financial aid. This aid, which operates according to a neoliberal logic, provides them with a critical pathway to tertiary education and potentially to institutional and national inclusion. Yet this private‐sector inclusion ultimately harms their sense of public belonging, as shown by the experiences of undocumented Latino youth in Nashville, Tennessee. Students who do not meet the schools’ high standards cannot access either institutional or civic inclusion; those who can meet the standards experience inclusion as contingent on continued excellence. Their experiences reveal the critical role that private institutions play in mediating undocumented people's national inclusion and how neoliberal merit restricts the terms of this inclusion.
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