Sacrificing Families: Navigating Laws, Labor, and Love across Borders

Sacrificing Families: Navigating Laws, Labor, and Love across Borders

Sacrificing Families: Navigating Laws, Labor, and Love across Borders

Sacrificing Families: Navigating Laws, Labor, and Love across Borders


Widening global inequalities make it difficult for parents in developing nations to provide for their children, and both mothers and fathers often find that migration in search of higher wages is their only hope. Their dreams are straightforward: with more money, they can improve their children's lives. But the reality of their experiences is often harsh, and structural barriers-particularly those rooted in immigration policies and gender inequities-prevent many from reaching their economic goals.

Sacrificing Families offers a first-hand look at Salvadoran transnational families, how the parents fare in the United States, and the experiences of the children back home. It captures the tragedy of these families' daily living arrangements, but also delves deeper to expose the structural context that creates and sustains patterns of inequality in their well-being. What prevents these parents from migrating with their children? What are these families' experiences with long-term separation? And why do some ultimately fare better than others?

As free trade agreements expand and nation-states open doors widely for products and profits while closing them tightly for refugees and migrants, these transnational families are not only becoming more common, but they are living through lengthier separations. Leisy Abrego gives voice to these immigrants and their families and documents the inequalities across their experiences.


AFTER SEPARATING FROM MY GRANDFATHER, my maternal grandmother could not bear to see her children go hungry. Not unlike many poor and single mothers in El Salvador, she had been toiling in domestic jobs for a couple of years and made barely enough for transportation but not enough for food; so she came to the United States in the mid-1960s. Penniless and driven to fulfill her responsibility to her children, she left all four of them with her mother. Initially, she worked in the United States without legal authorization to live in the country. After becoming a legal permanent resident, it took many years for all the paperwork to be processed through the complicated bureaucracy that was known, back then, as Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). Not until she received the last piece of paper from the federal agency was she able to reunite with her children, some fourteen years after her departure. Three decades later, and although they see each other weekly, my mother, who is now in her fifties, still cannot hold back the tears when she recounts the many times in her childhood when she longed to be close to her mother. She and her sisters are grateful to their grandmother for her care, and they would have appreciated their father’s presence in their lives, but it was their mother’s absence all those years that continues to pain them.1

In general, as a society, we accept and try to adhere to the notion that parents and children reside together—at least until the children get old enough to move out on their own. Of course, families are very diverse. The social expectation, however, is that children will share a home with at least one parent . . .

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