Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Multigenerational Punishment: Shared Experiences of Undocumented Immigration Status within Mixed-Status Families

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Multigenerational Punishment: Shared Experiences of Undocumented Immigration Status within Mixed-Status Families

Article excerpt

Daniela Sanchez, an upbeat 22-year-old undocumented immigrant who arrived in the United States at the age of 4, began crying as she whispered that she had decided to have an abortion afterfindingoutshewaspregnant.Whileshehad optimistically told me about her ability to overcome the barriers created by her undocumented immigration status, her demeanor shifted as she began to talk about her family plans. She explained:

For me, in my [undocumented] situation, what I had to offer, I felt like there's no way [I could have a baby]. . . . I feel it would be too irresponsible of me to bring somebody into this world. . . . Just being undocumented makes it a little harder for anything . . . [and] their life is depending on you.

Although Daniela's choice may not be representative of all undocumented young adults, her fears reflect the lived reality of undocumented 1.5-generation parents who struggle to provide for and protect their citizen children while contending with laws that limit their day-to-day lives. In light of this, mixed-status families develop strategies to cope with these limitations as they attempt to resist the negative impact that undocumented immigration status can have across generations.

Although most research on undocumented immigrants in the United States focuses on how immigration laws shape individuals' lives, some scholars have begun to address how these laws also affect people who are not undocumented themselves. In particular, scholars have shown how deportation policies impinge on the economic, social, and emotional well-being of family and community members in the United States and the country of origin (Dreby, 2012; Hagan, Rodriguez, & Castro, 2011; Yoshikawa, 2012). However, we know relatively little about how the impact of other immigration laws extends beyond undocumented immigrants, and how mixed-status families resist the effects of these laws. To address this gap, I explored how a number of immigration laws and policies influence both undocumented immigrant parents and their citizen children, a particularly important case given the growing number of mixed-status families.

Drawing on interviews with undocumented 1.5-generation young adults who had U.S. citizen children, I argue that immigration laws and policies produce multigenerational punishment wherein the legal sanctions intended for undocumented immigrants extend into the lives of U.S. citizens. I found that undocumented young adults and their citizen children shared in the risks and consequences of various immigration laws and policies that govern four aspects of their everyday lives: (a) deportation fears, (b) driving, (c) travel, and (d) legal employment. The impact of these laws extended across immigration status through social ties and day-to-day interactions. Although this could occur across any mixed-status social relationship, the uniquely dependent relationship between parent and child led citizen children to experience a de facto undocumented status in some contexts. In this way, not only did undocumented immigration status limit the lives of undocumented parents, but their citizen children were also penalized and developed risk-management strategies as they attempted to cope with these limitations. This reveals how the impact of laws can extend beyond the target population and why family members are particularly vulnerable to multigenerational punishment.

The Legal Exclusion of Undocumented Immigrants

Estimates suggest that there are approximately 11.7 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States (Passel, Cohn, & Gonzalez-Barrera, 2013). Approximately 2 million are 1.5-generation undocumented youth and young adults who arrived before the age of 16 and are under the age of 35 (Batalova & McHugh, 2010). This youthful segment of undocumented immigrants grows up relatively integrated into U.S. society as they attend K-12 public schools and are shielded from the consequences of their undocumented immigration status until they enter young adulthood (Gonzales, 2011). …

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